KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Tuesday was just another day at Chiefs practice, with a lot of this and a lot of that, and during another long session in the sun, it's easy sometimes for the action to fade into a two-hour blur.
Then Dexter McCluster lines up somewhere in the offense, and there's reason to pay attention. So Tuesday, the rookie took turns at receiver, Wildcat quarterback and kick returner, and he looked like a weapon at all three positions. Add running back to the equation, and coach Todd Haley has a quandary to contend with — because those on the sideline aren't the only ones who pay attention when McCluster lines up.
"The coaches have their agendas," Haley said of his assistants, and he proceeded to rattle off the names of four coaches who want their due time with McCluster.
Haley said that coordinator Charlie Weis would use McCluster on every play if he could. Assistant head coach Maurice Carthon wants to steal him to play running back. Receivers coach Richie Anderson and special teams coach Steve Hoffman want him, too.
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"My job becomes: 'OK, the guy can't play 120 plays in a game,' " Haley said. "What can he play? What is the best thing for the team?"
What the Chiefs are finding out after a month of training camp and preseason practice is that McCluster fits almost anywhere, and that's tempting for an offense that needs playmakers. But it's up to Haley to ration McCluster's touches, not only to evaluate other players but also to keep the 5-feet-8, 170-pounder in one piece.
McCluster was tested in last Friday's preseason game when he caught a pass over the middle and turned, and Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel flattened him. McCluster popped up and ran toward the sideline. That was one of the important things. The other was that he never let go of the ball.
"As I was catching the ball," McCluster said this week, "I kind of had a gut feeling, like: 'You know what, Dex? You're hit. Hold onto the ball.' And he hit me. He got a great lick on me, but if you're able to get up, get up. That's what I did, and everything is all right.
"A lot of people asked me, 'Are you all right?' I'm good, let's roll. It was good to get that hit and kind of put it to rest. I'm not going to fold, no matter who hits me."
Haley said it was good to see McCluster take that first major hit as an NFL player. It was better to see him absorb it without injury, then act as if nothing happened.
"When you watch the college tape," Haley said of the former standout at Mississippi, "this guy is a tough guy. He wouldn't have survived if he wasn't. Now the question is: At this level, can he?"
McCluster said he has no doubts. That might be confidence or that feeling of invulnerability that a second-round draft pick has during his first preseason. But McCluster said that as quick and strong as his body is, his mind is his best skill. He said it compels him to improve, never feel intimidated and absorb the many pieces of information that are expected of him as he plays multiple positions and attends multiple meetings and serves multiple coaches — all of whom want some part of him.
"I've shown that I am smart enough to learn not only one but a variety of positions," McCluster said. "I pride myself on my versatility, and I'm glad that a lot of the coaches want to move me around. The thing about me is: I want to make sure, whether I'm at running back, slot receiver or returning, that I know what to do, when to do it, and will do it to the best of my ability."
Haley hasn't said how the Chiefs will use McCluster most frequently, but the coach admitted that it's good to have such a problem. McCluster said he's just glad to have so many chances to make an impression and prove the first thing on his list of priorities.
"I've shown that I'm not the biggest guy out there," he said, "but I can play with all my heart. The thing about me is, I want to make sure, whether I'm at running back, slot receiver or returning, that I know what to do, when to do it, and will do it to the best of my ability. I want to make sure that when my number is called that, you know what, I'm going to make something happen.
"At the end of the night, they're not going to see me as a small guy. They're going to see me as maybe the quickest or the guy who's going to give it all up for his teammates."