The Kansas City Chiefs were the No. 1 rushing team in the NFL last season. Jamaal Charles had an astounding 6.4 yards per carry average, despite finishing second on the team in carries (230) behind Thomas Jones (245). So far this preseason in three games Charles has carried the ball just six times and Jones for nine times.
That's more than just a coincidence from some game situation. They are unwilling to either risk injury to these players, or they just aren't willing to tip their hand and give opposing teams for the regular season tape to scout them. At least teams in those first couple of weeks. It's a bold move because you're risking players not being ready when the regular season does begin.
When you look around the league at other players who finished in the top 5 in rushing last season you'll see how other teams are treating their star running backs. Arian Foster has carried the ball 13 times so far this preseason. He didn't carry the ball once in their first game against the New York Jets, he carried it five times against the New Orleans Saints and then eight times against the San Francisco 49ers. He re-injured his hamstring in the game against the 49ers and is questionable for their week one matchup with the Colts. It's nothing that can be forseen but you hate to see injuries to key players on a teams' offense during the preseason.
Michael Turner finished third in rushing in 2010 and has carried the ball 18 times so far this preseason for the Atlanta Falcons. He's averaging just three yards-per-carry in their three losses to the Dolphins, Jaguars and Steelers. The two other running backs in the top 5 last year, Maurice Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson, have not played yet this preseason. Jones-Drew is being held back because of offseason knee surgery, and Johnson is still holding out for a new contract.
Adrian Peterson has carried the ball 21 times this preseason for the Minnesota Vikings. That's a much different philosophy than the Chiefs considering you could make a case that Peterson is much more valuable to the Vikings than Charles is to the Chiefs. The Chiefs would still have Thomas Jones, Dexter McCluster and LeRon McClain if something were to happen to Charles.
There are quite a few more running backs that had great years in 2010 that are getting more work in than the Charles and Jones so far in this preseason. Rashard Mendenhall has carried it 14 times, Steven Jackson has carried it 21 times (15 against the Chiefs), Ahmad Bradshaw - 10 times in two games thus far, and Ray Rice has carried it 25 times so far in three games.
Is it fear of injury or some other not-giving-anything-away type of reason as to why the Chiefs haven't made a concious effort to get Charles more carries so far this preseason? It's a strategy that can be picked apart if the Chiefs aren't successful early in the season running the ball. The Chiefs first game of the season is against the Buffalo Bills, who ranked dead last in the NFL last season against the run, giving up an average of 169 yards per game. Charles won't sneak up on the Bills after 177 yards on 22 carries against them last year, not to mention 61 yards receiving on four receptions.
Todd Haley seems to have a specific plan in mind for the preseason and that doesn't involve getting his star players a lot of reps in the game. We'll know in a few weeks if this plan worked.