We’re close. So, so close.
Real football starts in just a few days. That means we’re done analyzing preseason snaps trying to figure out if they translate to the real thing. We’re done speculating on roster spots (well, almost, Dorsey tends to surprise us at times). And we’re about to be done wondering if guys are ready to go once the regular season starts.
Jamaal Charles has been one of the players we’ve all kept our eyes on the closest. As training camp and preseason went along, it seemed more and more likely that Charles wouldn’t be ready to go when the snaps got real. From everything we’re hearing now, that’s the way it is going to be, and we’ll be stuck waiting one more week to watch the most productive running back in the history of the NFL run the ball.
You know what the crazy thing is? I’m ALMOST all right with it.
Make no mistake, Charles is unique. I have written extensively about how his vision, balance, speed, burst, and surprising strength make him one of the best players I have ever had the privilege of watching. There is no replacement for Jamaal Charles that will be able to 100 percent fill those shoes.
However, the Chiefs are in a unique situation right now in that I don’t think the loss of Charles will cripple the offense, or even prevent it from being very, very good. The reason? This guy:
I will never get tired of this. Demps does nothing wrong here. Squares up, launches. Just gets hit by a train. pic.twitter.com/uvX2l7zi3t— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 29, 2016
I will be 70 years old and still watching the GIF. It represents everything people love about watching Spencer Ware run with the football, and frankly, football in general: raw violence done in an oddly beautiful way.
I’ve written about Ware before, but now that he’s (apparently) going to be starting for the Chiefs on Sunday, it’s a topic that deserves revisiting.
When people think of Spencer Ware, particularly casual fans or those who haven’t watched much of the Chiefs recently, they think of a brute who gains yardage by lowering his head and ramming through any and all obstacles (think Christian Okoye). And one can understand why people would think that. At 5’10 and 230 pounds, and with highlight reels that show him destroying the souls of would-be tacklers like Demps in the above GIF, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that Ware is a power back and call it a day.
In a way, what’s happened with Ware’s power is similar to what lazy analysts have done with Charles’ speed: taking an obvious physical attribute of the player, calling it their only attribute, and moving on. Except, much like Charles is much more than a speed back, Ware is much more than a power back.
With Ware, what sets him apart from many other running backs is his vision and ability to set up blockers, which are THE most important traits a running back can possess and generally go hand in hand.
Ware is so good at setting up blocks. Here, he uses eyes/movement to sell LB on the wrong gap, then cuts back. pic.twitter.com/vSQpBiGNAw— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 5, 2016
Here, the action to watch is on the interior. Mitch Morse briefly helps LDT move a defensive lineman from where the run is headed, then gets to the second level to engage one of the linebackers. In the meantime, Anthony Sherman, who I believe was initially assigned to block 56 (impossible to say), has to stop and help Parker Ehinger, who is beaten inside in a way that would close off Ware’s options.
Ware helping means that 56 is left unblocked with a choice of which gap to fill, to the left or the right of Ehinger (yes, there are correct names for these gaps. No, I don’t feel the need to fill articles up with jargon, even basic jargon. Let me know if you want that to change).
This is a moment where average backs and good backs are separated. An average back would immediately follow Mitch Morse, as there’s some room there. By doing so, however, this would allow the unblocked linebacker to react and meet him in the gap, minimizing the gain.
Instead, Ware (with his eyes and his body language) sells the idea that he’s heading toward the outside shoulder of Ehinger. 56 crashes toward that gap, and Ware (cutting much more quickly than a guy of his size as a right to) cuts back toward the initial hole.
Trent Green raved about this run during the broadcast, which may seem odd to some given that it was only a seven yard gain. However, Green is smart enough to understand what a savvy play this was by Ware and how it resulted in an extra 3-4 yards.
Ware consistently displays this kind of vision and awareness of his surroundings, and it shows in how rarely he’s tackled for a loss or no gain (though being a bulldozer helps, too). It’s such a vastly underrated part of his game, but it’s the primary reason I’m more comfortable with Ware than I am with Knile Davis or even Charcandrick West. Ware demonstrates a level of vision that neither of those two possess (though to be fair, West is light years ahead of Davis in this department. He’s decent at it, just not as good as Ware from what I can see).
Ware also demonstrates solid balance for a man his size, which combines with his natural strength to create yardage.
Ware gets hit after a yard or 2 here, but his balance and power is enough to lunge forward for 5 and a 1st down. pic.twitter.com/kwLJjzAkHN— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 5, 2016
Here, as mentioned in the tweet, Ware gets hit very close to the line of scrimmage. However, he’s able to power through enough to gain a couple of extra yards, and even after getting his feet knocked out from under him he keeps his balance enough to stumble forward an extra 3 yards. It makes the difference in whether or not he gets a first down.
Ware is a downhill runner in more ways than just blowing up safeties. He very rarely has his momentum stops and generally “falls forward” for an extra yard or two when hit, even when taking direct shots from defenders that stop other backs in their tracks. Getting an extra couple of yards after contact might not sound like a big deal, but (as above) it’s the determining factor in whether you’re punting or continuing to drive toward the end zone.
Or, in some cases, it’s the difference between a touchdown and a goal line stuff. Remember this play?
Spencer Ware turned this into a touchdown. He's a beast. pic.twitter.com/7NgCgxoQ7I— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) August 28, 2016
Ware got hit well before he was able to reach the goal line. Then he got hit again, and again, and again ... basically somewhere between 4-6 Bears had their hands on Ware. But he didn’t go down, and his natural strength kept him from getting toppled over. LDT made a heads-up play by shoving the pile forward, and the Chiefs scored a touchdown they had no business scoring.
A final trait Ware has shown off this preseason that you don’t hear people talking about is how comfortable he appears as a receiving back.
I've heard ppl express doubts re. Ware as a receiver. I don't get it. Looks comfortable catching and in space to me. pic.twitter.com/Gr87dVHsJI— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) September 5, 2016
Now, one play doth not a receiving back make, but I’m surprised at the number of people who seem unsure as to whether Ware will be able to perform the necessary receiving duties to be part of an Andy Reid offense.
Honestly, I can’t see the issue at all. Throughout preseason, Ware looks to have soft hands, catches the football away from his body, and looks comfortable gathering the football in while moving in space. I like the idea of Ware getting more involved in the passing game, given that it creates an opportunity for him to get momentum and be alone against a linebacker or a secondary player (can you IMAGINE being a safety in space against this guy? Yikes).
All of this is a longwinded way of saying I’m more comfortable with Spencer Ware taking snaps than I am with any other player we’ve had since Charles came to town. In my opinion, Ware is a multi-talented running back who would be starting on well over half the other teams in the NFL (based on talent alone, we’ll see how he holds up health-wise).
You cannot replace a Jamaal Charles. But the Chiefs happen to have (in my opinion) another upper-tier talent to fill in until he gets back to 100 percent, and a more-than-capable No. 3 in West to make sure Ware isn’t burdened with too many touches.
Ware is good enough that I sincerely hope that when Charles returns they still find a way to feed him the ball 15 times a game. He brings that much to the table, and is much more than a brute at running back.
Just a few more days to go...