KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s no secret as goes running back Jamaal Charles, so goes the Chiefs offense.
Charles, who’s been battling blisters, returned to the practice field Thursday on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday. And offensive coordinator Doug Pederson made it clear who commands the ball in the backfield.
“Jamaal is the guy, he’s going to go,” Pederson said. “He’s a tough kid.”
Still, Pederson indicated Charles’ primary backups could see action against the Oakland Raiders.
“Will we spell him from time to time with Cyrus (Gray) or Knile (Davis)?” Pederson said. “Yeah, we’ll do that and give him a blow. We did that last week, and we’ll continue to do that. We’ll just monitor his progress throughout the game.”
The Chiefs haven’t had to rely on Gray, a second-year pro, or Davis, the team’s third-round draft pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, through five games.
Charles has been durable en route to ranking second in the league in yards from scrimmage with 647 (397 rushing, 250 receiving). He played through the blisters in Week Five’s 26-17 win against the Tennessee Titans and posted his first 100-yard rushing effort of the season.
“Jamaal is very explosive, we need him on the football field,” Pederson said. “He understands that and he’ll be ready to go.”
Nevertheless, Gray and Davis are prepared to contribute of if Pederson decides to rest Charles at any point.
For his part, Gray said he prepares every week as if he’s playing on Sunday and this week isn’t different.
“I go in the same mindset every week to get ready to play,” Gray said. “You just never know in this business, anything can happen, so every week I prepare the same. There’s no difference this week.”
Davis agreed with his backfield mate.
“It’s the same every week,” Davis said of his mindset. “We’re facing a good team, so you know you have to be on your Ps and Qs. It’s the same as every week; you just prepare good.”
Neither backup has seen a lot of action this season. Davis has 12 carries for 41 yards rushing and one catch for 5 yards, while Gray has rushed the ball twice for 8 yards and a catch for 6 yards.
But both running backs made it clear they know what they must do if their respective number is called upon on Sunday.
“When I’m out there, just doing what I need to do to do my job, whether it’s running or pass protection,” Davis said. “I have to take advantage of the opportunity if I’m filling in for Jamaal.”
“I just hope to help this team win with whatever’s possible,” Gray said. “Whatever my role is, just being able to help the team win.”
Mention Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor to Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and it’s clear Pryor has Sutton’s attention.
“It’s obviously a major concern,” Sutton said of containing Pryor. “Terrelle’s a really good football player. He’s playing the quarterback position very well, he’s right at around 68 percent [68.3].”
Compounding the concern is Pryor’s scrambling ability where he currently ranks third in rushing yards among quarterbacks with 229.
The Chiefs have surrendered big rushing games to opposing quarterbacks in two of the past three games, allowing 99 yards to Philadelphia’s Michael Vick in Week Three and 50 yards with a touchdown to Tennessee’s Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week Five.
Pryor comes off a game where he rushed for 31 yards on 11 attempts.
“Anytime you add that other dimension where you can extend a play, escape out of the pocket, and the thing he’s doing a great job of is he’s escaping and extending the play to throw the ball, that’s where he’s making a lot of plays,” Sutton said of Pryor. “Obviously he can take it and run up field any moment he desires to run because he’s one of these elite speed guys. He’s a long strider and you don’t appreciate how fast he’s running until he goes by you.”
Sutton said it requires a team effort to contain a quarterback like Pryor, and his message has been received by his players.
“We want to make sure we can keep him in the pocket and force him to throw the ball,” linebacker Tamba Hali said. “We don’t want him running around. Michael Vick is a different type of runner, but he’s [Pryor] a long strider. He reminds me of Cam Newton when he came here last year and was running the option.”
Linebacker Frank Zombo, who is the next man in line if Justin Houston (concussion, limited in Thursday’s practice) can’t play Sunday, also understands the challenge of facing a running quarterback like Pryor.
“He’s a guy that can scramble, for sure,” Zombo said. “Anytime you’re an outside linebacker with a guy like that, you’ve got to focus to contain and stay in your rush lane and not letting him scramble and using his legs against you.”
Ultimately, the challenge for the Chiefs defense to meet on Sunday is to maintain discipline against Pryor.
Or better yet, continue playing until the whistle sounds.
“As we say, there is a play and then there is a play within the play, and that’s when we have to do a great job of plastering the receivers, not relaxing for a second thinking he’s down and we have to do a great job down field with them, it’s going to take a team effort,” Sutton said. “Guys like him, you never relax until that official grabs the ball.”
Notes: Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said he’s fighting hard to continue to use cornerback Marcus Cooper on special teams … Cooper has seen increased time on defense during the last two games … . “He’s very talented,” Toub said. “Defense is slowly taking him away and that’s the way it is. Good players end up moving up, and that’s life in our world” … Toub said punter Dustin Colquitt (knee) is “far” from 100 percent, but called him a “warrior” for toughing out the injury … Linebacker Justin Houston has been cleared to practice, but hasn’t been cleared yet to play Sunday, Chiefs beat writer Terez Paylor of The Kansas City Star reports.