Vahe Gregorian

Here’s the simple truth: Kareem Hunt was a luxury, not a necessity, for Chiefs

Chiefs Spencer Ware ready to make big plays and score touchdowns

Kansas City Chiefs Spencer Ware will be making his first start as the featured running back in front of a home crowd this weekend against the Baltimore Ravens. Ware says he's ready to take on the starting role.
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Kansas City Chiefs Spencer Ware will be making his first start as the featured running back in front of a home crowd this weekend against the Baltimore Ravens. Ware says he's ready to take on the starting role.

Too soon or not, let’s pause and go back to the football part of all this: With the tardy but essential dismissal of Kareem Hunt from the Chiefs last week, anyone assuming — through never-ending exasperating experience — that a trap awaited even this seemingly charmed season might figure it just sprung.

But consider this.

In today’s pass-crazy NFL and with everything else the Chiefs have in their favor, Hunt had been a luxury, not a necessity. That’s why, for instance, Bovada essentially didn’t even change the Chiefs’ Super Bowl odds from last week to this week (6/1 to 11/2).

No matter how much it might appear otherwise.

Yes, a year after leading the NFL in rushing last season as a rookie, Hunt again was among the most prolific and dynamic backs in the league. Moreover, his capacity for the spectacular was a key to the confounding dilemma presented by the highest-scoring team in the league.

Opponents had to pick their poison when contending with Hunt, the fastest player in the league in receiver Tyreek Hill, a tremendous tight end in Travis Kelce, a potent receiving alternative in Sammy Watkins and the emerging likes of Chris Conley.

All this, engaged and animated by budding MVP Patrick Mahomes operating the joystick with spontaneity and run-pass options.

And, yep, a dimension abruptly has been lost, perhaps symbolized by the Chiefs now being at least momentarily relegated to their leading rusher being … Mahomes, with 238 yards.

“I don’t necessarily like running; I’m not too fast,” Mahomes said, smiling, as the Chiefs prepared to play Baltimore at home this Sunday. “But I like scrambling around extending plays.”

Which, in fact, is the first crucial point here: Mahomes still will extend all of this in more ways than one, as we saw in the 40-33 victory over Oakland on a rather sluggish offensive day.

He will continue to be the catalyst, and he remains surrounded by an impressive array of playmakers in an offense that continually is being tweaked and contoured to its strengths by coach Andy Reid.

Beyond that, for a sample of how the game has changed from grind to flight, consider that 29 of Mahomes’ 41 touchdown passes have been in the red zone, including 17 inside the 10-yard-line. That speaks to a fundamental modern change in the function of the run game.

Then there is the matter of Spencer Ware, who will get the bulk of the work in the wake of Hunt’s release (even though here’s hoping there’s room to get former running back Hill more carries), with Damien Williams and the recently returned Charcandrick West soon to fill in.

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No, Ware doesn’t have Hunt’s ceiling on the field. But Ware clearly is an asset, not a liability, as he reminded last Sunday when he churned to carry three or four Raiders with him on one run and bulldozed through others for a touchdown on another.

That sheer toughness, his smarts with protections, knack as a receiver and understanding of the system mean that Ware will be sturdy and reliable and have to be respected by defenses … even if he isn’t quite a presence to be game-planned around the way Hunt often was.

This means a niche of his own, understanding, though, that part of that is an indirect acknowledgment that he isn’t his predecessor.

“We try to do that with every player, if we can, exploit their strengths and then work on their weaknesses so that maybe those can become strengths for them,” said Reid, who playfully declined to elaborate on what that might mean for Ware. “I don’t know how else to answer it other than give you the playbook.”

It’s also worth remembering this. Just over a year ago, when the Chiefs discarded the injury-riddled Jamaal Charles, they expected to ride Ware, who had rushed for 921 yards on 4.3 yards a carry in 2016.

So Ware is right when he says “my film is my resume,” though as of the first drive of the 2017 preseason opener the biography also included a torn MCL and PCL in his right knee. At that point, you might remember, many Chiefs fans figured that would be big trouble.

Then in stepped Hunt, the sixth running back and 86th pick overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, numbers that reflect the diminished stature of the running back in today’s game. But he was a sensation on the field, and in that sense the Chiefs were a better team with him.

But the deeply disturbing video of him shoving and kicking a woman in February that became public last week, along with other news that has since surfaced, made him toxic.

Now, the Chiefs are absolutely better off without him in a broader sense, and his demise hardly means their season is sabotaged.

It remains to be seen how it will all play out, of course. But this team remains Super Bowl-caliber because Ware is better than many might realize, because this offense (and most others) aren’t built around running backs anymore, anyway, and because it has so much else going for it.

Former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt was interviewed about his alleged assault of a 19-year-old female in a Cleveland hotel on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown and this is what he had to say.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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