From Indianapolis, Indiana
Head coach Todd Haley met with the media on Friday at Lucas Oil Stadium as part of the NFL Combine activities.
And as always happens in these days and now months after the 2010 season, the conversation was about offense. A new but old offensive coordinator in Bill Muir, the addition of Jim Zorn as quarterback coach, the presence in the Pro Bowl of QB Matt Cassel, RB Jamaal Charles and WR Dwayne Bowe are all frequent topics of questions from the fans and media horde. And, let us not forget the still unanswered question on who will call the plays for the Chiefs offense in 2011.
Haley answered questions on all those subjects on Friday, but there’s more to the Chiefs offense than many of those asking the questions might know, particularly when it comes to the running game.
“We quietly led the league in rushing, the first time I was part of staff involved with something like that,” Haley said. “The key is we have to continue to get better.”
Building on what the Chiefs did last year on the ground will include some tinkering and tweaking:
- Last season, most of the run plays were called by then offensive line coach Bill Muir and assistant head coach Maurice Carthon, a pretty good indication that even if Haley decides to call the offensive plays himself, he’ll rely on those two to continue what they obviously did so well in 2010.
- How about a slimmer, quicker Thomas Jones? Haley has already talked to the veteran running back about dropping some weight in hopes of improving his quickness.
- And how about Dexter McCluster becoming solely a running back, rather than splitting time between wide receiver and the backfield.
“I think we have a chance to take our running game to another level,” said Haley. “There is certainly room for improvement.”
Over the 2010 season the Chiefs averaged 164.2 yards per game, or 4.7 yards per carry. Only twice in 16 games were they held under the 100-yard mark. Nine times they ran for more than 150 yards and six times they ran past 200 yards. They had the best RB duo in Charles (1,467 yards) and Thomas Jones (896).
But Haley sees the chance to get more out of the run game. He says that the 68-year old Muir has been rejuvenated by the addition of the coordinator duties and that there should be an even better fit between the run and pass plays with Muir in charge.
“He knows the run forward and backwards,” Haley said. “He has a great feel for structuring the runs where they provide the most potential production.”
The Chiefs expect Jones to return for the 2011 season; he’ll be 33 years old in August and would be playing his 12th season. That age showed itself last season as it appeared that Jones ran out of gas at the end of the season. Over the first eight games of the season, he ran for 570 yards on 137 carries. That’s an average of 71.3 yards and 17.1 carries per game. In the final eight games, he ran for just 326 yards on 108 carries. That’s an average of 40.8 yards and 13.5 carries per game.
Jones was listed as playing at 212 pounds, but that number was low; most of the season he was closer to 220 pounds.
“I’d like to see him get down to 208, 209 pounds,” said Haley. “I think it could make a difference for him, let him feel lighter and quicker.”
McCluster’s development came to a grinding halt last year when he was injured in game No. 7 against Buffalo. That high ankle sprain cost him five games and in the final five games of the season, McCluster ran the ball just seven times for 11 yards.
Haley and his coaching staff are contemplating making McCluster the team’s third-down back, sending him out of the backfield on flare routes and screen passes where he can get a jump in open field.
“It’s really a role that is closer to what he was doing at Mississippi,” Haley said of McCluster’s role as a running back at the University of Mississippi. “I think it will give him more chances of break off some big plays.”
Invariably, the fantasy football folks will speak up; those that think Charles should get more carries on game day than what he’s been getting over the last two years in Haley’s offense. From mid-season 2009 when he took over for the dispatched Larry Johnson, Charles has averaged 19 touches per game (391 runs and 71 catches). Considering his size and the pounding he’s taken over those 24 games, anything much more than 20 touches per game is going to be problematic.
Rather than talk about protecting Charles, the head coach put the focus on another area.
“It is very important to understand that he is a developing player,” Haley said of Charles “He did not come into the league a complete back. He had a lot of work to do. He’s a great young man. He likes football. He’s really fun to be around; he’s fun to coach. We laid out to him the things he needed to do to be a consistent part of the team. He’s listened and responded. That back half of ’09 and we were excited about year two. I think he has a great chance to continue to develop.
NFL PERSONNEL FILE FOR FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 25
- BEARS – signed head coach Lovie Smith to a 2-year contract extension through the 2013 season; re-signed C Olin Kreutz.
- PACKERS – moved Edgar Bennett from RB coach to WR coach; moved Jerry Fontenot from assistant offensive line coach to RB coach; moved John Rushing from offensive quality control to assistant receivers/special teams; hired Joel Hilgenberg as offensive quality control.
- RAIDERS – re-signed RB Rock Cartwright to a contract extension.
- TITANS – signed P Brett Kern to a 4-year contract extension.