Chiefs hoping to get strong running game
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)
Coming off his best season, legs still fresh and churning at 31, Thomas Jones had plenty of opportunities after becoming a free agent.
He chose Kansas City, a team that already has Jamaal Charles, a star-on-the-rise back who ran for more than 1,000 yards as a part-timer last season and happens to be eight years younger than Jones.
A lapse in judgment? A money grab? Nope.
A chance for competition, to possibly form one of football's best running-back tandems and return a moribund franchise to its power-running roots.
``I just feel comfortable here,'' Jones said Monday, the first day of the Chiefs organized team activities. ``I didn't look at the 1,000-yard rusher situation at all. Jamaal had a great year last year and he has a lot of ability, a lot of talent, and I look forward to playing with him this year.''
Jones' decision gives Kansas City a power-and-speed, youth-and-experience combination that could end up being the best in the AFC West, if not the NFL.
That is, of course, if someone blocks for them.
Of the Chiefs' numerous deficiencies last season, the offensive line made a glaringly bad impression, unable to keep defenders off quarterback Matt Cassel's back or create many holes for Charles or Larry Johnson.
Wiegmann was a part the Chiefs' glory days, teaming with Willie Roaf, Will Shields and Brian Waters to clear drive-a-truck-through holes for Priest Holmes and, later, Johnson.
Lilja had a chance to be a part of that group when he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chiefs in 2004, but was put on the practice squad and claimed by Indianapolis. Lilja ended up starting 59 games for the Colts and went to two Super Bowls.
Nice additions, but still with questions: Wiegmann is 37 and was cast off by Denver, and Lilja was released, in part, because of a knee injury.
Still, after what the Chiefs went through last year, the addition of those two - along with third-round draft pick Jon Asamoah of Illinois - is already creating more competition, a foundation of coach Todd Haley's philosophy.
``We've got better competition than last year at this point and that is the bottom line,'' Haley said. ``The more competition you can bring in at each spot, the better team you have a chance to be.''
If the line does come through, watch out for the Chiefs.
Charles provides the youth and elusiveness.
A third-round pick out of Texas in 2008, he started off his second season in a clumping of potential backups to Johnson, who was trying - again - to prove he was still an every-down NFL back. Once the disgruntled Johnson was let go, Charles stepped in and stepped away from seemingly every defender that came after him.
Even behind a shoddy line on a team that would win four games, Charles shined, becoming the first NFL running back to rush for over 1,100 yards on less than 200 carries. He was named the team's MVP after rushing for 1,120 in just 10 starts, including a team-record 259 in the season finale against Denver.
The only question about Charles was his durability. At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds there were concerns of whether he could hold up over an NFL season.
That's where Jones comes in.
Built like a muscular boulder, Jones is about 20 pounds heavier than Charles and an initiate-contact type of back who's been able to handle the poundings.
The 10-year vet of five teams piled up a career-best 1,402 yards and had 14 touchdowns last season, getting more carries (331) than everyone except Tennessee's Chris Johnson to help the New York Jets to the AFC Championship game. Jones ran for over 1,300 yards the year before, earning a spot in the Pro Bowl.
Now, he's going to share the backfield with another 1,000-yard back.
Jones doesn't mind, though. He's been through this before, seen up-and-comers come and go, been told he'd have to share the ball. Somehow, he always seems to get his carries, pile up the yards.
``These league, you need, two, three backs to carry the ball because it's a long season and guys take a pounding,'' he said. ``You have injuries, things happen, so you need a lot of different backs to come in and make plays, so I look at the situation that we have some good backs on this team who can make plays and help us win.''