KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The competition for work at Dexter McCluster’s new position can be intimidating. Also in line for snaps as the Chiefs featured back are Jamaal Charles, who rushed for almost 1,500 yards last season, and Thomas Jones, who only last year had his streak of five straight 1,000-plus-yard season snapped.
McCluster figures the talents of his teammates can only make him more valuable to the Chiefs.
“Everybody brings something different to the table,’’ McCluster said. “They were a great running back tandem last year, Jamaal with his speed and Thomas with his power. Throw a little jitterbug in there and you never know what will happen.’’
That’s what the Chiefs were thinking when they made McCluster a running back. It didn’t look when training camp started there would be much for McCluster to do, but he’s been staying busy, sometimes in the same backfield with either Charles or Jones.
He was the featured back on the Chiefs’ only touchdown drive of the preseason. It happened late in the first half of last week’s game in Baltimore.
McCluster, between runs and catches, accounted for 38 of the drive’s 80 yards.
“There’s a clear-cut vision for him right now,’’ coach Todd Haley said. “You saw some of that the other night. He made a number of plays, seven touches or so, that he made that I thought were kind of exciting, good things for us as a team and good things for him.
“I’m not thinking snaps so much as touches. Four or five runs, four or five catches (per game). How many snaps that takes, that doesn’t matter to me. This guy clearly in space is a hazard to the defense. He probably got a little worked up the other night. We didn’t throw to him a couple of times where he had touchdowns.’’
The Chiefs used McCluster mainly as their third receiver last year as a rookie but he had little impact. He caught 21 passes and missed five games with an ankle injury.
As a receiver, he never presented the matchup problems the Chiefs envisioned.
“We knew he had the versatility to do both,’’ said Haley, referring to running back and receiver. “He did both in college and was very productive in both areas at different times. Being that slot receiver from a learning standpoint takes some time when you haven’t lined up and done it for four years in college. Knowing we were going to miss an off-season, I thought that would be a potential setback for him.’’
McCluster has operated exclusively out of the backfield so far in camp and the preseason. That spot may be better for the 5-foot-8, 170-pounder out of Mississippi. As a receiver, he’s difficult for the quarterback to see.
As a back, he’s difficult for the defense to track.
“I get lost behind the big offensive linemen,’’ he said.
The Chiefs are finding enough work to keep him busy. He will also return some punts and kickoffs, though he hasn’t done that in a game yet.
“Honestly, I’m loving my role,’’ McCluster said. “The (coaching) staff will put me in positions where I can use whatever I have.
“Defenses are going to have to start game planning. We have Jamaal out there or Thomas out there as well as me out there at the same time, you never know who’s going to get the ball.’’
If the Chiefs are going to use McCluster as a third-down back, he will need to improve as a pass blocker. He whiffed on a block on a third-down play against Baltimore and allowed Matt Cassel to be sacked.
“Everybody can see I’m not the biggest running back, not the biggest guy,’’ McCluster said. “But you know what? My heart and my competitiveness won’t let me shy away from the pass protection. I’m learning it. It’s coming along.’’
The Chiefs aren’t ready to give up on McCluster as a pass blocker.
“We’re still working hard on protection,’’ Haley said. “He had a couple of minuses in that area (in Baltimore). But from a standpoint of creating some matchup issues out of the backfield, I think there’s some exciting stuff there.
“We’ll have to see. That works both ways. There’s no question I’ve seen enough in practice that Dexter physically, he’ll stand in there with anybody. There’s some learning involved and some technique and how you want to do it. I know he’s being well-coached on it and I believe he’ll figure it out.’’