KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Of Kareem Hunt’s five touchdowns in the first two weeks of his rookie season, he had to work hardest for the last.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ standout running back, a third-round pick from Toledo, powered through the first attempt at a tackle by the Philadelphia Eagles defense last Sunday, spun around and, facing backward, churned his legs for three, four, five more steps. Just when it looked as if he might finally be stopped, Hunt pushed backward for a sixth step, then a seventh, twisting to reach his right arm forward and push the football across the goal line.
It was as impressive a 2-yard run as you'll see in the NFL.
Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith called it a classic “will power” play. Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said it was a combination of effort and instincts. Guard Laurent Durvernay-Tardif said it was the type of determined running that inspires teammates to block longer and harder.
It seems as if the Chiefs are learning a little more about all the impressive things Hunt can do during every quarter.
The league's newest breakout star, Hunt is proving he’s much more than a power runner, flashing enough speed to outrace linebackers and defensive backs en route to a pair of 50-plus yard touchdowns, but also sufficient strength to break tackles — 14 of them on 38 total touches, according to Pro Football Focus. He's rushed for an NFL-best 229 yards, with an average of 7.6 yards per carry, and also easily leads the league with 355 yards from scrimmage and those five trips to the end zone.
While coach Andy Reid’s offense includes several elements of a college-style spread attack, it’s essentially a West Coast system, with complicated play calls and extensive passing game responsibilities for a running back, at its core.
“I feel like I'm a guy that can pound the rock a little bit, and catch the ball well out of the backfield and just make things happen in space," Hunt told USA TODAY Sports this week.
"Andy tries to get his running backs in space, and I like to take advantage of that."
Do-it-all running backs have been a hallmark of Reid's teams. From Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia, to Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and, now, Hunt in Kansas City, the coach wants a back who's as comfortable in pass routes as he is running between the tackles.
Reid frequently watches college games from his office, and that provided his introduction to Hunt, whose Rockets frequently would up on ESPN2.
“He always seemed to finish the game strong. You know, Thursday night games, you’re doing your work, and you have the game on. And he kind of jumped out on that team there, they relied on him quite a bit,” Reid said.
But the critical evaluation came last spring, when former general manager John Dorsey asked Reid to watch college film to see if Hunt might be a good fit for Kansas City. What Reid saw was a player who never fumbled, was multi-dimensional and fast enough to provide a big-play threat.
The lone surprise may be how quickly Hunt has developed into a marquee NFL player.
After Charles’ release in February and a season-ending injury to Ware, last year's starter, in preseason, Hunt was thrust into the role of featured back. His duties have continued to expand as he's proven to Reid and Nagy that he can handle not just the routine running plays but all the responsibilities of a third-down back as well.
“There's a lot of different assignments and sometimes, when you do all that, it can scramble your brain. But it hasn't done that with him,” Nagy told USA TODAY Sports.
“You try to see in training camp, is this something that he can handle? And you feed him a little bit more, and you test that out. And if he does well, you take it to the next step. We're growing right now, and if we start to see things slip, then we'll pull back.”
There have been no signs yet that the Chiefs need to throttle back with Hunt. And with Smith’s success with the downfield passing game that features dynamic receiver Tyreek Hill and the constant threat of a big play from tight end Travis Kelce, Kansas City's coaches hope it will be hard for opponents to focus too much on Hunt.
“Pretty much I just had to keep doing it over and over, showing them it's not a fluke. I'm going to bring it every day,” Hunt said.
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