Sam Mellinger

Chiefs running back Knile Davis shows he’s more than just the next man up

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City Chiefs running back Knile Davis (34) ran for 132 yards rushing on 32 carries, here in the fourth quarter past Miami Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan (24) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. on September 21, 2014. The Chiefs won 34-15.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Knile Davis (34) ran for 132 yards rushing on 32 carries, here in the fourth quarter past Miami Dolphins cornerback Cortland Finnegan (24) at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. on September 21, 2014. The Chiefs won 34-15. The Kansas City Star

Knile Davis just played the game of his professional life. He must be sore, but there is no telling. He must be proud, but you would not read it in his body language.

Really, the only way you’d know that Davis did anything out of the ordinary is that there are a dozen or so reporters waiting around his locker after the Chiefs’ 34-15 win over the Dolphins here Sunday.

He’ll talk in a second, but first, Cyrus Gray asked to borrow something that Davis packed away already, so he walks to the middle of the locker room to look through a pile of bags ready to go on the bus. After seeing the reporters waiting, and Davis struggling to find it, Gray calls him back.

Don’t worry about it, man. OK, Davis says. He comes back, and talks to reporters about what was nearly a historical day after carrying the ball 32 times for 132 yards and a touchdown.

Davis did more than just power the Chiefs to their first win going into the schedule’s toughest three-game stretch. He must’ve changed the way he’s viewed around this team, and in the process, made an important case for general manager John Dorsey’s drafting him.

“Thirty-two times,” Davis says. “That’s not a normal day for anybody.”

In the 55-year history of the Chiefs, only seven men had carried the ball that many times. They are stars, almost exclusively, guys like Priest Holmes, Marcus Allen, Larry Johnson, Christian Okoye and Jamaal Charles.

Davis’ turn, of course, came because Charles did not play a week after suffering a high-ankle sprain. An All-Pro goes out, so of course his backup rushes for more yards than all but one other NFL back on Sunday.

Next man up, indeed. All week, his teammates used that phrase so many times their interviews could’ve been done with one of those internet soundboards.

How do you make up for Jamaal not playing?

Next man up.

How much will not having your best player affect you on the road?

Next man up.

How would you deal with ISIS?

Next man up.

That phrase carries much more credibility now, whether Charles can play next Monday night against the Patriots or not. This is two difficult road games in a row where Davis has been a valuable help. He had 28 touches and 105 total yards with both of the Chiefs’ touchdowns last week, and now more rushing yards against the Dolphins than Charles had in all but one game last year.

Let’s be clear: Davis is not Charles, and it would be absurd to say that. Among other things, Davis still needs to earn trust with the ball. He put it on the ground twice Sunday, losing one fumble, something he openly acknowledges he needs to fix. He’s also not as good blocking as Charles.

But along with a big day from Joe McKnight — six catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns — the Chiefs are showing they can still move the ball and score points without (by far) their best and most important player.

By all indications, Charles was close enough to playing here that you would think he’ll be OK in eight days. But with the freak foot injury in the preseason, and his limited usage in the opener against the Titans, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be 100 percent. Proving they can score 34 points (with no defensive takeaways) without Charles is a major step for the offense and team.

It’s also significant on a deeper level, and one that goes beyond the day-to-day and week-to-week.

Davis was the third player drafted to the Chiefs by Dorsey last year, the 96th overall pick. Along with tight end Travis Kelce (another touchdown on Sunday) and even Eric Fisher (who continues to show progress, despite horrendous grades on Pro Football Focus) Davis is giving the Chiefs some much-needed production out of Dorsey’s first draft class.

Even with the turnaround from 2-14 to the playoffs last year, Dorsey has taken criticism for his draft classes. Fisher made for an awkward first overall pick, but it’s also worth noting that nobody taken at the top of that draft has done much. Kelce missed, basically, all of last season.

The criticism is fair if draft classes are judged on immediate results, but there are signs that the Chiefs will get value in the long-term. Fisher remains Dorsey’s most visible pick, and if he becomes a good left tackle it will change the view on everything else.

But there are other positive spots here in a season that’s still most effectively viewed for the long-term. Not just Davis, Kelce and Fisher. Dee Ford, this year’s first-round pick, made an impact for the first time with the Chiefs, most notably beating his blocker and hitting Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s arm on a third-down pass.

Phillip Gaines needs to do it at cornerback, but he made some nice plays on special teams. The coaches think they have some ways for De’Anthony Thomas to shine. And Zach Fulton is starting on the offensive line.

The Chiefs still have some obvious holes, particularly with their receivers, along the offensive line and in the secondary. But when Dorsey was hired before last season, one of the biggest roster problems was vertical, not horizontal. The top of the Chiefs’ roster was strong, but the middle and especially the bottom were fairly terrible.

That seems to be changing, evidenced by a close loss at Denver and now an impressive win at Miami without stars like Charles, Eric Berry and Derrick Johnson.

Davis has been a critical part of that, but along with what we’ve seen from other Dorsey draft picks these first three games, also represents what should be an improving public opinion of the Chiefs’ last two draft classes.

For a Chiefs team still balancing the short- and long-term, that might be the best news of all to come out of South Florida on Sunday.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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