With Jamaal Charles still out, Chiefs learning more about their other backs

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Running back Knile Davis on Monday had perhaps his best practice session since joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. Davis caught a number of passes, including one when he came out of the backfield and got down the right sideline to haul in a deep throw from Tyler Bray.

Davis received those opportunities because the Chiefs’ regular featured back, Jamaal Charles, continues to rehab his surgically repaired knee and has yet to practice at training camp. Charles’ absence is giving Davis and the other backs a chance to shine, and it’s also giving the Chiefs a chance to better learn their various strengths and weaknesses.

Pass receiving, for instance, has been a weakness for Davis. His ineffectiveness as a pass-catcher and protector is a big reason he didn’t play more last season after Charles left the Chiefs’ lineup early last season. The Chiefs promoted Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware over Davis on their depth chart.

“What we’ve tried to do is look at their strengths and how they fit into our offense, and then utilize it from there," coach Andy Reid said. “Then we’re going to ask them to try to get better at things. Knile would be that example. Knile came in, and we were able to get some great games out of him from more of [a tailback] position, a downhill runner. He did a beautiful job, and then he’s continued to work [on] his pass game. He’s gotten better at it, so we’re putting him in in those situations.

“That’s how we look at all of them. They’re all different. They’ve all got their strengths and weaknesses. We {tell them], ‘We’ll take care of your strengths and let you have an opportunity to show those off, and let’s get better on our weaknesses.’"

The Chiefs were in scramble mode last year after Charles suffered a torn ACL in a mid-October game against the Chicago Bears and was lost for the rest of the season. West and Ware were largely untested, and while the Chiefs were familiar with both players from training camp, only West had played for them in a regular-season game. And his playing time had been sparse.

West and Ware responded well. They combined to rush for more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Now that the Chiefs are more aware of their abilities, they should be able to get even more from both players if Charles’ absence is extended.

West led the Chiefs with 634 rushing yards, but he also had 160 carries, more than twice as many as any other Kansas City running back. His biggest impact was as a pass receiver. His 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown helped the Chiefs break open a crucial November game against the Denver Broncos.

Ware showed his violent running style during training camp last year, but even the Chiefs were unaware of how effective he would be when given the ball. He gained 5.6 yards per carry, the highest average among NFL running backs with 70 or more carries.

His contributions as a pass receiver, however, were minimal. Ware caught just six passes for 5 yards. The Chiefs often had to turn to West as their back in passing situations.

The Chiefs are in the process of learning whether Ware, like Davis, has made improvements as a receiver.

“Spencer was a great baseball player and he was a quarterback in high school," Reid said. “You look at that, and you know what? He’s probably a great athlete. I’m not going to tell you he’s the fastest guy. He doesn’t need to be the fastest guy. He’s got great vision, he’s got good feet and he can catch. Those things work in our offense.

“He’s got to continue to work on his pass blocking. That’s his challenge."