KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The wide-eyed look of an undrafted rookie free agent out of Abilene Christian University has vanished from the 2014 offseason.
Chiefs running back Charcandrick West’s bright smile remains, of course, but the 5-10, 205-pound West now beams with the poise and determination expected of a second-year pro.
“I feel comfortable,” West said. “Around this time last year, my head was doing this (rotates his head clockwise in spinning motion). Now, I actually know stuff and can come out here and have fun, and not be worried about, ‘I hope I don’t mess up, I hope I do this right.’ Now, I get it.”
The 24-year-old West possesses more than self-assurance.
He also set high goals after watching teammate and fellow running back Jamaal Charles the past season.
“I’m not as good as him right now, but one day I plan to be better than Jamaal,” West said. “I look up to him. Everything he does, I try to do. I mean, he’s great. I just want to be great, too.”
West, a native of Springhill, La., enjoyed an accomplished career at Abilene Christian before joining the Chiefs in May 2014.
The converted cornerback and former high school track star finished his college career with 2,098 yards rushing on 347 attempts and 1,007 yards receiving on 71 catches with 35 total touchdowns (28 rushing).
He also showed versatility as a kickoff returner, totaling 758 yards on 34 returns, and is the only player in Abilene Christian history to achieve 2,000 yards rushing, 1,000 yards receiving and 750 kickoff return yards in a career.
West spent the entire 2014 organized team activities, minicamp, training camp and preseason with the Chiefs before landing on the practice squad to start the regular season.
The Chiefs elevated West from the practice squad on Nov. 11, 2014, days after running back Cyrus Gray suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 10 against the Buffalo Bills.
West didn’t record a regular-season carry or reception in six games, and his contributions mostly came on special teams, where he totaled one tackle.
While his offensive skillset may fly under the radar to those outside of the team, the coaching staff is fully aware of what West offers.
“The thing that I’ve seen, obviously, we knew we had a steal in my opinion because we got him as an undrafted free agent and he’s done a hell of a job,” running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said. “He did a lot of good things for us on the practice squad last year, and then we had some unfortunate injuries, he stepped in and proved a value on special teams, and obviously we knew what he could do. Now he’s in Year Two. He’s taken the proper steps forward to give himself a chance to make a unique impact going forward.”
West is aware of the opportunities in front of him and he attacked the offseason by focusing on training specific to his position before reporting for OTAs.
That approach in recent months proved a contrast to the 2014 offseason where NFL Draft-related preparation commanded attention.
“It was a lot different from my first offseason because I was training for Pro Day and Combine stuff,” West said. “This time I got to focus more on football and just get better at what I do.”
West said he spent time in Texas working out with former Dallas Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith, a three-time Super Bowl champion, where they concentrated on lower body movements.
The results so far are positive and West appears decisive and quicker on the practice field.
“He helped me out with my feet a lot this offseason,” West said. “He got my feet, just amazing.”
The Chiefs currently carry six running backs on the roster: West, Charles, Knile Davis, Cyrus Gray, De’Anthony Thomas and rookie Keshawn Hill.
Gray, the team’s No. 3 running back in recent years, participates in the stretching and warm-up period of OTAs without his helmet, but hasn’t practiced.
Hill has missed recent practices with a hamstring strain, and Thomas, who continues to be listed as a running back/wide receiver, now works mostly with the wide receivers.
The absence of Gray and Hill – and with Thomas apparently transitioning – has opened the door for West to receive valuable practice repetitions as the third running back.
“It’s very huge and obviously you never want injuries to occur,” Bieniemy said. “But Charcandrick has an opportunity to step in and get some reps, which is great for him. One thing I will say about Cyrus, I trust Cyrus with everything. I know the type of player and person he is. But at the end of the day, Charcandrick is making the most of this opportunity and needs to continue to do so while No. 32 is out.”
West agreed, but he wouldn’t mind having Gray back in the fold.
“It’s a great opportunity,” West said, “but I’m ready for him to be back because I learned a lot from Cyrus, too. It just gives me an opportunity to get more repetitions and just learn the offense more and show what I can do.”
West has looked good through six OTA practices and is prepared for whatever the Chiefs need of him leading to training camp.
He is comfortable in his understanding of the offensive scheme and abilities to make plays, but more importantly West has his position coach’s trust.
And there is always the smile that hasn’t changed since West arrived in 2014.
“One thing that has remained consistent, he has one of the most unbelievable smiles,” Bieniemy said. “He lights up the room every single day. That’s the beauty of having Charcandrick here. He brings happiness and a great spirit into our room every day.”