Lost in the confusion and disappointment of the Chiefs’ stunning 18-17 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday was how Jamaal Charles took his devastating right-knee injury, which he suffered early in the third quarter.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he spoke with Charles, who was understandably somber after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, which the team confirmed will be season-ending on Monday.
“He’s obviously down, but he’s positive about coming back and getting himself back,” Reid said. “That’s where his energy will be directed now — getting through the surgery and getting himself back to where he can play. And that’s where it should be.”
Charles, in many ways, was the heartbeat of the Chiefs. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who loves the game more. Charles, 28, told reporters this spring that he’d like to play until his mid- to late 30s, which would be unheard of for a running back.
He also cares about the team, which became crystallized by his apparent self-loathing over the incident, which he apparently thinks he could have prevented in some way.
“He’s not a selfish guy. He feels like he let the team down,” Reid said. “But that’s not the case at all. The other guys will step up and pick up where he left off.”
That, however, will prove to be the hard part for Reid and the Chiefs. No back on the roster can replicate Charles’ dynamism and skill set. His vision, quickness, toughness, versatility and passion make him one of the team’s best and most consistent players,
“You know you’re not going to replace Jamaal,” Reid conceded. “He’s one of the best — really, when it’s all said and done — one of the best in the history of the game.”
But it is possible for Reid and the Chiefs to craft an offense around the skills of Charles’ likely replacements, Charcandrick West and Knile Davis.
“(So) you do just what you’re saying. You find out and exploit the strengths of those other players,” Reid said. “And that’s the challenge as a coach, to make sure you’re putting them in a good position to do that.
“We’ve had some success at that position doing that. Knile’s had some big games for us here when he’s been called on. And then Charcandrick is getting better every week, so we can surely move forward and still be successful there.”
Between the two, Davis — who is listed at 5 feet 10 and 227 pounds and has a size advantage over West (5-9, 203) — looks more like a traditional featured back. Davis even fared well during a three-game stretch last year when Charles was banged up, recording 70 carries for 318 yards for a solid average of 4.5 yards per carry.
Davis is a one-cut, north-south back who does some of his best work on man/gap-blocking plays. The Chiefs do run some of those, in addition to some of their typical zone-run plays, so if they opt to give Davis more work, he should be able to step right in and contribute.
“If you want to go downhill, Knile’s a good one to go downhill with,” Reid said. “That’s one thing he can do. It’s not a secret to the National Football League, because he’s done it. He’s a one-cut guy, and he’s going to bring all 225 pounds with him.”
But Davis has not logged a carry since week two, largely because West usurped his workload. West has far more consistent hands than Davis, which allows West to consistently be a factor in the passing game, and his jitterbug style is similar to Charles’.
Charles and West “were closer together than what Knile was as far as the quick moves — you know, the feet and dancing and all of that stuff,” Reid said.
There are other options in the backfield beyond Davis and West, as a source told The Star that free agent running back Ben Tate would work out for the Chiefs on Tuesday.
Tate, who is listed at 5 feet 10 and 220 pounds, is a former second-round pick of the Houston Texans. He has experience in a zone-run scheme, rushing for a career-best 942 yards as a rookie in 2011. Since then he has also played for the Browns, Vikings and Steelers.
“We’ll look in-house first before we go outside,” Reid said.
Reid said one option already on the roster is receiver De’Anthony Thomas, who was listed as a running back last year. At 5 feet 8 and 176 pounds, however, he is widely considered to be more of a specialty player, as he routinely lines up as a slot receiver and does most of his damage on jet sweeps, swing passes and screens.
Another potential option is practice-squad running back Spencer Ware. Ware, 23, is another big back, at 5 feet 10 and 228 pounds, and he impressed during the preseason, rushing 18 times for 66 yards and catching seven passes for 64 yards while playing running back and fullback.
“Yeah, he’s worked very hard getting himself in that position,” Reid said. “We thought he had a good preseason and training camp. He had the opportunity to play both spots, which makes him valuable. Obviously, that’s why we kept him. He’s got good hands and is a good blocker.”
If Ware proves to be all that, he could buoy a position that will be without its best player for the foreseeable future.
But Reid has no doubt that Charles, who has proved his toughness time and time again — he overcame a torn left ACL in 2011 and has repeatedly played through nagging injuries — will work his way back and re-establish himself as the star player he was before the injury.
“He’s an amazing guy that way,” Reid said. “He’s one of those rare athletes that you have an opportunity to coach. They’re genetically and mentally strong, and they can do things that most people can’t do when it comes to their profession.”