KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs’ ground game could look quite similar to the way it finished last season when they play the San Diego Chargers in their opener on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
That’s because Chiefs coach Andy Reid acknowledged Monday that running back Jamaal Charles is “a stretch” to play after surgery to repair the ACL in his right knee. Charles has been practicing for weeks but did not participate in any preseason games as he works his way back to game speed.
“Jamaal has to keep working through this,” Reid said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
The four-time Pro Bowl selection tore the ligament in a loss to Chicago in Week 5, and had surgery shortly thereafter. He was back on the field for a portion of the Chiefs’ mandatory June minicamp, and that raised hopes Charles would be available for the opener against San Diego.
But with several capable backups, the Chiefs appear in no rush to get him on the field.
“I am full-go right now. I’m out here, I’m practicing, and I can’t be happier about where I’m at,” Charles said last week. “It’s all going to come when it comes. It’s just practice right now and I’m happy to be out here. I could be sitting on the couch watching TV.”
The Chiefs kept Knile Davis as their third running back behind Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware when rosters were trimmed over the weekend, giving them insurance if Charles is unavailable. The trio was solid in his absence last season, leading the Chiefs to 10 straight wins and the playoffs.
West ran for 634 yards and four touchdowns. Ware ran for 403 yards and six touchdowns. Both were impressive enough that they earned new contracts in the offseason.
The big question was whether Davis would stick. He’s had problems with fumbles throughout his career, and had been passed over by West and Ware last season. But he had a solid training camp, and his ability to return kicks made him a bonus for special teams.
“At the end of the day, I think Knile had a really good camp,” said general manager John Dorsey, who drafted him in the third round three years ago. “He earned himself a roster spot.”
In other news, Reid said Phillip Gaines will start at cornerback opposite 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters. Gaines is coming off his own torn ACL, but has been back on the field for a while, and the third-year pro at least brings a modicum of experience to a youthful bunch of defensive backs.
Of the Chiefs’ six cornerbacks, none has been in the league more than two years.
“I’m confident in the guys, but it’s a matter of them doing it,” Reid said. “We have to see it in games and see how they do, but they’re surely capable of doing a nice job in there.”
Reid also confirmed that pass rusher Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry will be available against San Diego, even though neither of the veterans participated in a preseason game.
Hali had surgery on his balky knees in the offseason, and the Chiefs intend to treat him with kid gloves all season. Without star linebacker Justin Houston, recovering from his own knee surgery, the Chiefs will rely on the 32-year-old Hali to provide some kind of pressure on the quarterback.
Meanwhile, Berry missed most of training camp after negotiations on a long-term contract broke down and he refused to sign his franchise tender. The All-Pro has only been with the team about a week.
“We’ll get them in there. We know we have guys that can spot them if needed,” Reid said. “I don’t think Tamba will play the full load. We’ll rotate Tamba. Just by sheer age and wear and tear on the body, he’ll be in a rotation. If you keep him in there, he’ll go 8,000 miles an hour.
“Then with Eric, it’s just a matter of seeing where he’s at and how he’s doing.”