Romeo Crennel had many things to like about the Chiefs’ preseason opener. If he had to pick a favorite, it might be a running game that registered 166 yards and two touchdowns in Friday night’s 27-17 win over Arizona.
The performance of the offensive line and running backs sparked hope in Crennel that the Chiefs could again lead the NFL in rushing, something they did in 2010 when they won the AFC West championship.
“I think we (can),” Crennel said. “We have a great combination of backs. Our ability to use them how we deem necessary, what fits us the best, will go a long way for us. We’ve got a really fast guy. We’ve got a strong guy with speed and then we’ve got some slashers. It will cause defenses some problems in trying to prepare.”
The game was only in the preseason and the first one at that, with both teams using plenty of young players. There was still much for Crennel and the Chiefs to be encouraged about.
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They rushed for more than 166 yards just once last year and had just five rushing touchdowns all season. They accomplished that against the Cardinals without much help from Jamaal Charles, who got the ball just four times in his first game back after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and having reconstructive surgery.
The running game fell apart without Charles last season. The Chiefs set out to bolster their depth at running back by signing Peyton Hillis and drafting Cyrus Gray.
The first quarter of the Arizona game was barely half over and already Hillis had begun to validate the Chiefs’ decision to make him a priority signing in free agency. He scored the Chiefs’ first touchdown on an 11-yard catch from Matt Cassel and set up their second score with 28-yard run.
“That’s what I was hoping for when we signed him because he has shown that he has the ability to be a good runner, he can catch out of the backfield and he can block as well,” Crennel said. “I thought he showed us a little bit of that. He has his ability to get through the line, run through tackles, has great vision on making his cuts. He’s a good addition to the team.”
Gray, drafted in the sixth round, led the Chiefs with 65 rushing yards and he had one of their touchdowns. One of the Chiefs’ most interesting roster decisions will be whether they keep four running backs and, if not, whether their third back is Gray or Shaun Draughn, who played some with the starters Friday night and scored the other rushing touchdown.
Crennel wouldn’t rule out keeping a fourth back even though there appears to be little need for one.
“I’m not ruling out anything,” Crennel said. “When you have good talent on your team, you try to keep it. If we feel a fourth running back brings value to the team, then we’re going to try to keep him.”
The Chiefs hope to get the ball to Charles and Hillis between rushing carries and pass receptions a total of 500 or more times. Even if they accomplish that, some work could be available to either Gray or Draughn.
“It might not be much work,” Crennel said. “I know the running back position is a tough one in the NFL. A lot of times those guys get bumps and bruises and they might have to sit for a minute or two. Having a third guy available that you can use is definitely a plus.”
The Chiefs’ goal for Charles on Friday night was merely to get him back to full-contact football. They accomplished that early when he was hit in the rehabilitated knee and bounced right back up.
“It’s always good when you see No. 25 back there,” Cassel said. “He adds an element of explosiveness and he’s a guy who every time he touches the ball has a chance to go all the way. So to have him back out there running around and looking like old Jamaal, it was great.”