KANSAS CITY, Mo. — You’d need a GPS to find Jamaal Charles in all these new formations, even on a good day.
One series, he’s at his standard spot at tailback. The next, he’s the deep back in the pistol. The next, he’s out wide, lounging around in Dwayne Bowe’s real estate.
Over the past month, the Kansas City Chiefs’ all-universe tailback has been tried out in more positions than a socket wrench. It’s just another wrinkle in Andy Reid’s makeover-slash-master plan. Or not. In May, it’s kind of hard to tell.
“Obviously, we know what he did last year — Pro Bowl running back, had over 1,500 yards, excellent, excellent season,” new offensive coordinator Doug Pederson told reporters Thursday following the penultimate practice of this week’s round of organized team activities. “He’s a guy that we can put in multiple spots. He’s a sharp kid. He’s worked extremely hard this offseason.
“Really, I think the sky is the limit with him with what we’re trying to do. Just put him in different spots and using his ability to, again, create matchups defensively.”
Reid and Pederson are into matchups, with the hope of winning more than they lose, and fingers crossed there. They’re also into moving their assets around the chess board as the situation dictates. Or just for the hell of it.
Either way, the numbers don’t lie: From 2004-2011, Reid’s primary rusher with the Eagles — Brian Westbrook (’04-’08), then LeSean McCoy (’09-’11) — also averaged 65 catches a year. In The Andy Gang’s world, “Flex” and “RB1,” to use fantasy-speak, are wholly interchangeable positions.
All of which makes for an interesting schematic, once laid upon the key pieces that the Reid regime inherited from the previous tenants. It also offers up a fairly large question:
Can Jamaal, um, “flex?”
“You’ve seen him sprint out of the single receiver, and he’ll come out of the backfield,” Pederson continued. “He’s a guy that needs to move around, and (one) you can put in different positions, motion out the back, shift him from the backfield. He catches the ball so well that you have to take advantage of that offensively.”
And hey, there’s nothing substantive to say that Charles can’t transition from playing the part of a Walter-Payton-You-Are-The-Offense jackhammer into more of the do-everything, Westbrook mold.
Charles is only 26, but it’s an old 26, thanks largely to that whole Payton-jackhammer thing, and the shorter shelf lives of NFL tailbacks in general. Yet the collegiate scouting gurus didn’t seem to have a huge problem with him as a pass-catcher, if Google is to be believed, and he was trusted with kick returns during his first two seasons as a pro (2008-09). The tools are there, allegedly.
Although they haven’t really been utilized to this point, either, whether that’s because Matt Cassel seemingly had eyes only for Bowe, because Cassel couldn’t hit the broad side of a very broad barn anyway, or, more likely, some combination of the two.
The Chiefs’ tailback has collected 37 catches, on average, over the four seasons (out of five) in which he has remained healthy. In his Big 12 days, the former Texas star saw an average of just 16.3 grabs over three seasons with the Burnt Orange, and never snatched more than 18 in any given campaign.
Which is not to say Jamaal can’t, you know, “flex.” It’s just to say that we don’t really know.
So in the spring, you put on the shorts, and you find out. Flexibility is the mantra of the month, and Charles wants to set a good example. A veteran example, now that you mention it.
“We’ve been doing it for a while now, so I’m pretty used to it,” Charles said a few weeks back when asked about where he fits in Reid’s brave new world.
“It’s just getting the young guys up in there. And I’m trying to be a veteran player now since I’m the oldest guy in the room. Going back six years ago, I was the youngest person and now I’m just trying to bring more leadership to the field.”
That and applause. The tailback turned up the catch of the day during Thursday’s indoor session, reeling in an over-the-shoulder grab — one-handed, no less — that had tongues wagging.
“Yeah, he’s definitely got the talent to (to do it),” tight end Anthony Fasano had observed earlier this month. “I think our offense is going to try to exploit the mismatches.”
And if anybody can truly appreciate the joy of “flex,” it’s Reid. Charles ranked 22nd among NFL tailbacks last season in terms of total targets (48) and was 13th in 2010 (61). Meanwhile, in The Andy Gang’s West Coast scheme, McCoy wound up eighth in targets in 2012 (67) and was first in 2010 (97).
“I think you can use (Charles) more in the passing game,” Pederson said.
And use him they will. Whether he likes it or not.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.