KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rookie Kareem Hunt became a starter in college much the same way it’s happening for him in the NFL. The running back ahead of him on the depth when he was a freshman at the University of Toledo was injured and his coaches turned to Hunt to become the featured back.
That worked out well for Hunt. He was productive enough in his four seasons at Toledo that not only did the Kansas City Chiefs make him their third-round draft pick this year, but they also selected him to be their starting back rather than either of two veterans after losing Spencer Ware to a knee injury.
Hunt will make his NFL regular-season debut on Sept. 7 when the Chiefs play against the Patriots in New England.
“It’s going to be a big stage," Hunt said. “It’s going to be a lot of hype. I’m just not going to make it bigger than what it is."
Having played for four years in college will help Hunt in that regard. The Chiefs obviously don’t feel they’ll be asking more from Hunt than he’s capable of giving so early in his NFL career.
Hunt, like most of the Chiefs’ regulars, isn’t scheduled to play in Thursday night’s final preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium. He rushed for 79 yards in his first three games, including 39 last week against the Seattle Seahawks.
“He’s had a tremendous camp," veteran running back C.J. Spiller said. “He’s done a tremendous job. To be a young guy and to play the way he played against a great defense like Seattle this past week, I was very pleased with it."
Spiller is one of the backs the Chiefs passed over in favor of Hunt (Charcandrick West being the other). Neither is as well-rounded a player as Hunt, who has proved to be adept as a runner, receiver and blocker.
But each player has skills.
“Every running back in this league is different from each other," Spiller said. “Obviously you have bigger guys and smaller guys, but everybody does something special. The guys we have in our room, everybody can go on a different team and be successful. That’s how much confidence I have in all of the guys in the room, because we all bring something totally different. Everybody is unique in [his] own way."
Spiller is trying to resurrect a career that went into a steep decline since he rushed for more than 1,200 yards for the Buffalo Bills in 2012. He showed during training camp that he’s the fastest of the Chiefs’ backs.
“I know I can run the football," Spiller said. “No one’s coming off arrogant or cocky, but that’s just God-given, just a gift that I was blessed with."
West led the Chiefs in rushing in 2015 with 634 yards after they lost Jamaal Charles early in the season to a knee injury. He’s been as much a threat as a pass-catcher as a runner in his two seasons with the Chiefs.
“I’m the smallest back," said West, who's listed at 5-10, 205 pounds. “My game is quickness and catching. You’re not going to see me run many guys over. We all know that."
The Chiefs intend to pick and choose their moments for Spiller and West. Hunt’s moments will be more frequent.
“We’re going to miss Spencer," West said. “But I feel like [Hunt] runs as hard as Spencer does."