ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — Duce Staley. Brian Westbrook. LeSean McCoy.
If there’s one thing coach Andy Reid’s history with the Philadelphia Eagles proves, it’s that he loves versatile running backs who are just as comfortable bursting around the edge for huge runs as they are setting up as wide receivers and hauling in rainbows down the seam.
That role is now in the hands of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, arguably the most talented of any back Reid has coached.
“Jamaal can do a lot of things,” Reid says. “I mean, we haven’t even tapped all the things he can do.”
For now, Charles is simply trying to gather it all in, and that involves splitting out wide in some sets, protecting the passer in others and scanning the defenses at all times.
Oh, and when he’s not on the field, Charles is cramming like a freshman on the eve of midterms.
“Oh, man, this is the most plays I’ve had to remember my whole life,” Charles says, smiling. “It’s a lot of studying. It’s a lot of listening to what the quarterback has to say, and then looking for (hand) signals, watching for man coverage or cover 2. It’s everything.
“I’m playing a lot of wide receiver right now, so there’s a lot to learn.”
Reid’s version of the West Coast offense always has utilized running backs in various roles, particularly in the passing game. During one season in Philadelphia, Westbrook caught 90 passes for 771 yards for Reid. The most Charles has caught in a season is exactly half of that.
But Charles knows that will change. And he welcomes it.
“I’m definitely going to get more passes,” Charles says. “I would just say, ‘Watch out.’ We’ll see.”
It’s not that Reid ignores the running game, either. Westbrook twice went over 1,200 yards rushing in the last five years, and Reid likely won’t ignore Charles’ tremendous quickness between the tackles.
Chiefs fans at camp just haven’t seen a lot of Charles running. Yet.
“I’m not even worried about running right now,” Charles says. “It’s more about getting timing now with the wide receivers and tight ends and picking up the blitzes so the quarterback can get rid of the ball.
“I know we are going to run the ball. I know that.”
Reid, though, already is preparing his backs for the physical nature his offense requires of the position. In Reid’s offense, backs likely will get 300 to 350 touches a season between running and receiving, and those backs will need to be tough enough to withstand the punishment.
Already in camp, Reid has allowed his defensive players to let loose on Charles and the other backs.
Charles insists he doesn’t mind.
“It’s football, so you’re going to get hit,” he says. “Getting hit puts you in football shape early.
“You know, it’s not about (the number of) hits. I know how to avoid getting hit (square) anyway.”
Reid isn’t the only one anxious to unleash Charles on opposing defenses in a variety of ways. Quarterback Alex Smith also gushes over his speedy and gifted workhorse.
“Jamaal, he’s a matchup mismatch for any team,” Smith said. “I don’t think there’s a position on the field you couldn’t have him in.
“And having Jamaal back there really helps us expand our playbook. He’s such a weapon. I don’t want to compare other offenses, but Andy has had a lot of running backs have success in this system. It speaks for itself.”
Charles should be next in line to enjoy that success.
“We still got a long way to go,” he says. “This offense takes a lot to learn. … But I’m glad I’m in it. I’m excited.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.