KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is little doubt that the NFL has become a next-man-up league as big-name players everywhere go down to injury each week.
And in Kansas City, that scenario is always on the minds of Chiefs fans when they consider the workload running back Jamaal Charles has endured through nine games. Charles has more carries (170) than any other back in the NFL.
So what if Charles were to go down with injury? How much would the Chiefs’ offense change?
“No difference in how we do things,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson says. “It’s just a case of next man up, and that would be Knile (Davis).”
The question, of course, is whether Davis, a rookie out of Arkansas, would be ready to handle the gig.
We know he’s talented. At 5 feet 10 and 227 pounds, he’s big. And we know he’s fast, as confirmed by a 4.37 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.
But it takes more than size and talent to survive in the NFL, and even Davis knows that.
“Yeah, it’s not college here,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. “The guys here are bigger and smarter and you have to do a lot more things. It’s hard.”
In Davis’ case, it’s more about what he cannot do than what he can do. What he cannot do is fumble, which he did far too often at Arkansas.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid knew of Davis’ reputation for putting the ball on the ground, and along with general manager John Dorsey, drafted him anyway.
“You take away the fumbling out of his game and you see a running back that you would put up there with any of the top running backs in the nation,” Reid said last April. “He knows his situation. He knows his problem, the label that he has out on him, being a fumbler.
“He’ll work hard to fix that and we think we can help him with that.”
Indeed, the Chiefs have worked hard with Davis, who goes through ball-security drills virtually every day with running backs coach Eric Bieniemy.
“They work Knile pretty hard,” fullback Anthony Sherman says. “They obviously see all that potential.”
Davis doesn’t seem to mind the extra attention.
“I don’t see it as anything wrong,” Davis says. “They’re trying to help.”
The early results so far aren’t horrible: Davis has had 17 carries and three receptions, and while he has fumbled once, the Chiefs recovered. No harm, no foul.
“I’m just trying to do the fundamentals,” Davis says. “Catch the tip of the ball and tuck it in.”
Meanwhile, Davis waits for more opportunities.
“With where we’re at in the season, he’s gonna have to play more,” Pederson says. “You just can’t keep putting two-five (Charles’ number is 25) on the field all the time. We get that. So I think you’ll start seeing his playing time increase.”
And it had been, until Sunday’s game at Buffalo. In the previous week against Cleveland, Davis spelled Charles and ran three times for 13 yards and caught a pass for 12.
But against the Bills, Davis barely saw the field and didn’t get a carry.
“My opportunities will come,” he says. “I’m ready. Coach Reid knows what I can do. I’m sure he has a plan for me.”
While he waits, Davis continues to try to elevate his game, which includes far more thinking than he had to do at Arkansas.
“It’s about reading defenses and picking up blitzes,” he says. “You’ve got to block at this level. It’s just low man wins.”
The adjustment hasn’t overwhelmed him so far, he says.
“The league is pretty much what I thought it would be,” he says. “The players are big and smart and have been doing it a long time.”
And, of course, the expectations are much higher, which Davis is getting used to.
“It’s like what E.B. (Bieniemy) always says, ‘Be ready,'” Davis says. “‘Be ready when your number is called. Jamaal has the most touches in the league and there’s going to come a time for you to give him a break. Be ready.'”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at email@example.com.