Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has a way of grabbing some headlines during the offseason. It was just about a year ago when he shocked reporters with a response to a direct question from our Pete Sweeney about the team’s crowded running back room during OTAs.
“Damien Williams is our starter, and we expect him to excel in that role,” said the former NFL running back.
Considering that the previous March, the Chiefs had signed veteran running back Carlos Hyde to a one-year deal worth as much as $2.8 million, that was a bit of a surprise. But by the end of training camp — and after trading Hyde to Houston for offensive lineman Martinas Rankin and picking up running back LeSean McCoy after the final cutdown — head coach Andy Reid had substantially tempered expectations, making it clear that the Chiefs would run the ball by committee in 2019.
But now a year later, the Chiefs have drafted LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round. Pundits across the country (and many Chiefs fans) have all but declared Edward-Helaire the league’s top rusher in 2020 by virtue of his LSU pedigree — and landing on an already-overwhelming Chiefs offense, in which is presumed to start.
And yet... here’s Bieniemy — once again grabbing a running-back headline.
“Now he’s just going to be a piece of the puzzle,” the offensive coordinator told reporters on Tuesday. “You’ve got Damien Williams — who did a hell of a job for us last year. He’s also going to have an opportunity to play with one of his former teammates (Darrel Williams), and then we have Darwin Thompson, and then we’ve got the young kid that played with the Oakland Raiders, DeAndré Washington.”
The 2020 Bieniemy sees the once-again-crowded Chiefs running back corps as a place where Edwards-Helaire can learn — rather than as one he should be expected to lead right away.
“We have a unique situation where he can come in and have an opportunity to learn from a collective group — but also, we want to make sure we’re utilizing him the right ways and making sure he’s mentally prepared to go when it’s time to go.”
But Bieniemy also made it clear that none of that should be taken as a knock against the team’s most highly-drafted running back since Larry Johnson in 2003.
“I think the kid is just a special kid.” said Bieniemy. “You’ve seen some of the things he’s done on tape as far as running the ball, having the ability to get outside in the open field and make some plays as a receiver. You can create matchups with him. He’s one of those ideal kids that fits in what we do.
“I think with his talent and also his attitude and his determined mindset, and the professionalism that he brings to the organization, I think that’s going to help him to be even better. Bieniemy declared. “I think the kid’s got some special traits — but I also believe that our players are going to help him to grow to become even more of a special contributor when it’s all said and done with.”
Bieniemy, of course, has already grabbed a couple of headlines this week. The first was being questioned about the NFL’s just-expanded Rooney Rule — which from all appearances, seems to have arisen directly from his inability to land a head coaching job after seven interviews in recent years — and the second was his spirited defense of Sammy Watkins after the Chiefs wideout’s recent interview with Bleacher Report.
So this headline might have escaped your attention until now. But it’s a reminder of two things:
One is that during May — even with a new first-round pick on the team — it’s very hard to project how a position group will line up in September.
Another is that Bieniemy is a plain-spoken guy who always has a knack for getting our attention.