The National Football League is a business, more than anything. Players know this, but as competitors, they are often willing to sacrifice the things that matter most to them — like playing time — as long as their team is winning.
But when their team is losing, that same competitiveness gnaws at them, often because they can't help but think they could have made a difference.
That said, Chiefs running back Knile Davis found a way to remain a good soldier over the past month, when he was essentially demoted to the No. 3 running back position in favor of Charcandrick West, a back with a skill set more similar to starter Jamaal Charles.
And now, with the Chiefs sitting at 1-4 and Charles out for the season with a torn ACL, the third-year pro from Arkansas finds himself in a position where he could be rewarded for his patience and hard work, even if he ends up splitting carries with West or Spencer Ware, who was just signed from the practice squad.
“It’s real tough, especially when you put a lot of work into it,” Davis said, when asked how tough it was to sit the past three games. “Sometimes you just have to sacrifice for the better of the team, and that’s kind of where I was, but now I’ve got an opportunity to play, so I’m excited.”
Davis, 24, 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.
“I was a volume runner (in college) — as I got into a rhythm, the better I did,” Davis said. “The more plays and opportunities you get the better you do. I think that’s pretty much any runner.”
He carried nine times for 25 yards and a touchdown in the Chiefs' first two games this year before losing his offensive workload to West. But when Charles went down in an 18-17 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Davis did pick up four offensive snaps, compared to West's 18.
One person who doesn't think the Chiefs' running game will change too much is Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer, whose Vikings will host the Chiefs at noon Sunday.
“Well, I think the running game will be similar to what it has been,” Zimmer said. “West is very similar to (Charles), and I remember Davis has had some very, very good games, so, I don’t think it’s going to change a whole lot.
“Obviously, Jamaal Charles is a great player. I’m sure they’ll miss him in a lot of things, but these other guys are very, very capable backs.”
Davis is a one-cut, north-south back who does some of his best work on man/gap-blocking plays, while West is a jitterbug type who fares better on their zone-run plays.
“The guys that we have, we’ve had them since OTAs and through camp so you know their strengths and weaknesses,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. “Knile’s a big, strong, powerful back – he’s a downhill runner. Charcandrick gives you a little more of that shiftiness, he’s a one-cut guy that can make guys miss. Both have excellent speed, I would say.”
There is room in the offense for both players, Pederson added.
“The fact (is) that we put them in those situations to utilize their strengths,” Pederson said. “We’re not going to let Knile do something that he can’t do or is trying to work on, it just doesn’t work that way, that doesn’t help your offense.”
Two areas that Davis has worked hard on the last three weeks are ball security and his pass-catching skills. West is regarded as the superior receiver — Davis has been plagued by the occasional drop —but Davis says he's worked on his hands every day for the past three weeks.
“I’m confident,” Davis said. “In practice, I do a good job of it and the situations this year — preseason and earlier this season when I was asked to catch the ball — I caught the ball.”
Davis has also worked diligently on his pass protection, an area that the backs understand could determine who plays the most going forward.
“People don’t understand that,” West said. “They think running the ball is the most important thing for a running back, but it’s pass protection. You won’t get a chance to run the ball if you can’t protect the quarterback. They can’t just throw you out there. It’s the main key.”
In that area, they are confident they should be fine. Davis has worked hard in this area, while West played in a pro-style offense in college where he says he was actually asked to do more in pass protection than he is now. Meanwhile, Ware is a big back, at 5 feet 10 and 228 pounds, who has spent time at fullback, so that's certainly an area where he's experienced.
“I think they all need to work together and when given an opportunity, do their thing,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They all have their certain things they’re going to be asked to do and we expect them to get in there and do a good job.”
West and Davis, however, figure to get first crack at the job. It's an opportunity for both to show what they can do, and for Davis, it's not one he takes lightly, especially after being forced to watch from the sidelines on offense the past month.
“I definitely think we’re different, but I have confidence that he can get the job done,” Davis said of West. “And I feel like I can definitely get the job done, so I think we’re in good hands.”