Go ahead and roll the dice on what we end up doing with Larry Johnson. Cut him. Trade him. Keep him. On his behalf, he's playing the game correctly - saying and doing all the right things to keep his spot, his contract and his good standing after a career as marked by off-the-field incidents as on-field talents. And while that's a shame, that's another post entirely.
That's because we're talking about Jamaal Charles here. Of course, what happens with LJ directly affects what I'm writing about now, so if Scott Pioli stops holding his cards so close to his vest and ends up cutting him soon, just negate everything I'm about to write (and hopefully you're about to read).
Assuming the Chiefs keep Larry Johnson as our primary running back, what you find is that there are a lack of targets for our beloved helmsman, Todd Haley. While I believe it's the QB that makes the WR and not vice versa, you can't deny that Haley's offense works best when the guys running along the sidelines (or cutting across the field) run crisp routes, outmaneuver the opponent and can haul it in. Thus looking around the Chiefs locker room (virtually of course), you find a lead receiver more Braylon than Larry in Dwayne Bowe and a lot of role players. That's it. That's all. And that's frustrating.
Now, if we still had Tony Gonzalez, then there would be hope, but even that outlet was taken away before newly christened QB Matt Cassel could enjoy his Chiefs colors properly. Instead we move more toward a balanced/blocking TE in Brad Cottam, negating that as a receiving outlet (at least primary) for this pass-heavy attack. While I'm sure we will make adjustments and we can't expect to see The Greatest Show on Turf around here anytime soon, it's still expected that Haley will be throwing the ball quite a bit and that someone is going to catch those passes.
I'm not buying the hype or limited evidence on any of the guys we have in house. Mark Bradley is not that inspiring. Devard is not a Darling and Jeff Webb is as boring as his name. I loved the Bobby Engram pick-up but not for his ability to be some Boldin/Fitzgerald clone (rather a Steve Breaston or Bryant Johnson clone). So no other WR, no TE and no primary RB, since Larry is hardly a Marshall Faulk redux.
Thus, unless Pioli makes some unexpected trade for Braylon Edwards or talks Andre Rison out of retirement, we might find the answer in-house. Jamaal Charles is a stud. And that's not just found in his ability to run. Last year, in a limited role, the Chiefs took advantage of Charles' ability to catch the ball out of the backfield with 27 receptions. In addition, not only does it make sense for those numbers to climb, but perhaps to use Charles in some sort of motion or even out of the slot. Let me explain.
Charles isn't a between the tackles runner, nor does he move the chains well. Instead, it's his blazing speed and open field ability that sets him apart. Check out this report from KFFL before last year's draft:
His crisp cuts, as well as lateral explosiveness, make him very elusive in the open field, and he has the true second gear to run past defensive backs once he gets into the secondary. No one was surprised when Charles put up a scorching 4.38 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, because he made a living ripping off long runs at Texas. He's a big play waiting to happen, a true burner that has the potential to take it the distance every time he touches the ball.
In addition, they note his route-running ability and decent hands, which we saw close-up in his first year with the Chiefs. A fast receiving talent like this might give Todd Haley the surprise element he needs and a chance to get flexible and creative with his backfield. A two-back set with Larry Johnson would keep defenses guessing at all times and Charles might prove himself a star, which Haley's scheme has proven itself able to do.
Of course, there's no guarantee and a trade or release of LJ changes a lot of this. But I'm hoping our receiving talent comes from within and that we can properly utilize the talents of Jamaal Charles.