Chiefs counting on rookie RB Kareem Hunt to help carry load
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Kareem Hunt has spent enough time getting an earful from Chiefs running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to know that any comparison to the fiery assistant should be taken as a compliment.
Turns out that’s exactly how tight end Travis Kelce chose to describe the rookie from Toledo.
“Man, he is coming along. He looks good back there,” said Kelce, one of the elder statesmen of the Kansas City offense. “He is starting to feel more comfortable with the offense. He is starting to play with that Eric Bieniemy style of play, which is good to see him play hard every snap.”
Bieniemy only had a marginal nine-year career as a player, bouncing through three organizations and starting just one game. So the comparison has more to do with personality than production — Bieniemy is constantly in motion, barking orders like a drill sergeant with little patience for failure.
And that’s the way Hunt runs. He is constantly moving in and out, forward and backward, with a unique combination of power, swivel and top-end speed that ultimately made him a third-round draft pick.
That combination also has allowed Hunt to turn heads in the first week of training camp.
“Running back is a hard spot. Those guys are doing a lot,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “The thing I’m really pumped about is I feel like (Hunt) has picked up the pass game and the protection and that’s normally what’s the hardest for young backs, protecting the pass game.
“But as far as all that stuff, once the ball is in his hands he looks good in shorts. We’re all excited to see how he’s doing.”
The Chiefs are counting on Hunt to help a ground game that was middle-of-the-pack last season.
Without longtime stalwart Jamaal Charles because of ongoing knee trouble, the duo of Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West were counted on to carry the load. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill also contributed out of the backfield, his speed giving the Chiefs a game-breaking option, but none of them wrestled control of the starting job the way that Charles did for so many seasons.
The Chiefs will almost certainly use a committee approach again this season, but the question becomes just how coach Andy Reid will dish out opportunities to his stable of runners.
Ware is the likely starter when the Chiefs open the season at New England, but Hunt could be the first off the bench. West and veteran C.J. Spiller are in competition for the No. 3 job, while undrafted rookie Devine Redding is also earning a look in training camp.
“I feel like I have been doing a great job taking it play-by-play and trying to catch every pass that comes my way,” Hunt said. “Honestly, they use the running backs a lot out the back field. Probably the most balls thrown to me at a camp, so I am just enjoying it.”
Hunt admitted it took a while to learn what Reid expects out of his players. But by now, he’s been through a rookie minicamp, a summer’s worth of voluntary workouts and a mandatory minicamp, not to mention the first handful of days of training camp on the campus of Missouri Western.
“I am a lot more comfortable because I know his expectations now and I know what he expects out of his running backs,” Hunt said. “I know what to look forward to and what he wants out of us.”
Hunt also thinks he’ll begin to shine even more now that pads are coming on.
“I definitely do. I definitely feel like I have great balance and am able to stay up on my feet,” he said. “On contact some backs fall off, but I feel like I am better when the pads come on.”
Pull out old game footage of his running backs coach in college and you’ll see much the same thing.
Perhaps those comparisons to Bieniemy are on point.
“Kareem is a smart kid. His football IQ is very high. He’s done a good job of retaining a lot of information, and trust me, we’ve been throwing the book at him,” Bieniemy said. “He’s done a heck of a job retaining information. On top of that, he’s done a great job of working out there.”
NOTES: The Chiefs take their first day off from training camp on Wednesday. They resume Thursday with six more practices before their preseason opener against San Francisco on Aug. 11.
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