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Friday Five: Charles, Kelce, Zombo and getting, taking and holding the football

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce scored a touchdown in front of Oakland Raiders linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong (57) in the third quarter on Dec. 14, 2014, at Arrowhead Stadium.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce scored a touchdown in front of Oakland Raiders linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong (57) in the third quarter on Dec. 14, 2014, at Arrowhead Stadium. The Kansas City Star

1. CHARLES IN CHARGE … A LOT LESS: With two games left in the regular season, Chiefs’ star running back Jamaal Charles has touched the ball 217 times (184 runs and 33 receptions) in the 13 games he’s played in.

Last season, coach Andy Reid’s first in Kansas City, Charles had 329 touches (259 carries, 70 catches) in 15 games — meaning he had the ball nearly 22 times a game.

In 2012, before Reid and a system seemingly so contoured to Charles’ game arrived, Charles got it 320 times overall as he ran for a career-best 1,509 yards on 285 carries.

So if Reid puts the ball in Charles’ hands against Pittsburgh and San Diego the same amount he has been all season, 16.7 times a game, Charles will finish with roughly 250 touches … about a third less than he’d gotten it the last two years.

So just what’s happening here?

For his part, Reid says there is no sweet spot or even range of how many times he wants to get the ball to Charles.

"I’m not sure by number that there is an absolute number. We just kind of see how things are rolling during the game and then we dial those things up as we go," he said.

That said, he’s expressed regret on several occasions he didn’t get the ball to Charles more.

No one is in more position to influence that than Reid, of course, but there are other factors here, too.

For one thing, Charles’ overall numbers are down simply from missing one entire game with an injury and repeatedly being forced out of chunks of several others.

The injuries are a worrisome issue in themselves, but that’s different than a de-emphasis on Charles.

Game situations also are part of this.

As just one example, last season, particularly in the first half, part of the Chiefs’ winning formula was heavily dependent on holding a lead from late in the third quarter on and running Charles to drain clock from there.

Charles rushed the ball 18 times or more eight times last season (five this season).

Discounting two extremes that came later in the season, a 35-28 loss to Denver and a 45-10 romp over Washington, the pattern in the other six games was remarkably similar.

Of his 121 carries in the six games, 53 were from the last five minutes of the third quarter on.

The template for this season’s team (8-6) just hasn’t been as simple, in part because it started with the Chiefs losing three of their first five and playing from behind more.

2. SPOILER ALERT: Speaking of Charles’ injuries, which have included a variety of knee, feet and ankle issues:

"You try to spot him when you can spot him and then give him time off when he needs time off to get himself back healthy and ready for the week," Reid said. "He’s not the type that wants to take any time off, and he wants to play every play. So you work within that.

"We are very fortunate to have him and that attitude that he brings."

Sure they are.

But that attitude also is part of a worrisome gray area with Charles, 28 next week, who left the playoff game against Indianapolis after suffering a blow to the head, somehow fended off team doctors after another of those against San Diego and was examined for a concussion again Sunday.

Charles is a valiant player and remarkably tough.

But, sorry, where is the threshold of how much more he can take and hope to have a healthy future?

There’s no easy answer short of not playing any more, of course, but it doesn’t mean it’s not an important question, either.

3. NOSE FOR THE BALL: On the less-celebrated end of the spectrum is Frank Zombo, the reserve linebacker and special teams "guru," as he calls himself, who has grabbed the ball this season more than any other Chiefs defender.

Modest as the number might be.

With two fumble recoveries, Zombo is the only Chief with more than one of those — and no one has more than one interception.

Zombo was an undrafted free agent out of Central Michigan in 2010 when he caught on with Green Bay and went on to record a sack and two tackles for loss in the Packers’ 31-25 victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.

He missed most of the 2012 season with injuries and was signed by the Chiefs in April 2013, catching on and holding on largely because of his grinding contributions.

"I feel like I play with a lot of heart … and it seems to keep working for me," he said. "Obviously, I don’t think I’m the most talented player in the NFL, but I play hard, I give it everything I have and run to the ball and do the little things right."

With a smile, he added, "And I stick around."

In the most recent case, that meant simply pouncing on a botched center exchange Sunday against Oakland.

It was such a cinch that teammates actually were laughing at him when he came off the field.

But he had it coming, if for no other reason for the way he scrapped for a key recovery on a muffed punt by Dexter McCluster in a 23-17 win over Cleveland last season.

"At the bottom of the pile, you’re just literally wrestling," he said after that game. "It was a pretty cool experience. It’s kind of like both of us had it, and it was like wrestling back and forth.

"It felt like it was just one man against another man, who’s going to come out with that ball? And I wasn’t going to go to sleep knowing that I was the man who lost that battle."

4. WHAT THE BALL MEANS: Say this for tight end Travis Kelce: He seems to take his recent fumble-itis seriously.

He called his fumble against Oakland "unbelievably unacceptable" and added, "Everybody’s dreams, goals and aspirations are within that ball."

That’s a term he took from Butch Jones, his coach at Cincinnati, and no wonder it took.

Because it says it all about football.

5. HOLDING ON: Then again, Kelce could just have paraphrased from "Seinfeld."

Anybody can try to take the football (or rental car reservation, as the case may be).

It’s the holding of it that matters.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to Follow him on Twitter at @vgregorian. For previous columns, go to