KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire spent his offseason working on his receiving skills. He would run routes and catch passes, all in hopes of having a bigger impact in the passing game.
“There are things we’re implementing to get the ball to the backs, to spread it out more,” Edwards-Helaire said last week before the Chiefs concluded offseason practice. “That’s one of the things on why I chose to work on my hands and just be more of a threat. … Just being able to get out not just on routes out of the backfield but also spread out in the slot position and wide out position. Just being able to expand my skill set was my thing.
“I feel like I was a decent receiving back in college … we’re just kind of enhancing it.”
The Chiefs have moved on from veteran back Le’Veon Bell, who arrived in the middle of last season to some hype but wound up having little impact. His contract expired at the end of the season and the Chiefs showed no interest in re-signing Bell.
He recently wrote on social media he had no interest in playing again for Chiefs coach Andy Reid.
The Chiefs have an interesting mix of backs without him. Edwards-Helaire is the starter, but the Chiefs also have Darrel Williams, the biggest of their featured backs at 224 pounds and veteran Jerick McKinnon as well as returning backup Darwin Thompson.
The Chiefs overhauled their offensive line in the offseason to better protect quarterback Patrick Mahomes but they also expect it will improve their running game. They averaged 112 yards per game last season, 16th in the NFL.
They also want more from their backs in the passing game. Chiefs backs combined for 76 catches (19th in the NFL) and 584 receiving yards (17th).
“We have these backs that catch the ball so well out of the backfield, so why not utilize them?” Mahomes said. “Clyde, Jerick McKinnon, Darrel, Darwin, all of these guys are really good at running and catching the ball and running routes in space and so using them … I think you’ll see a wide variety of stuff that we’ll come into the season with and that’s where you want to be with a great offense.”
Williams has been a reliable backup for the Chiefs. He was their leading rusher with 78 yards in the divisional round playoff win over the Cleveland Browns last season.
McKinnon was signed during the offseason. He rushed for 570 yards and caught 51 passes for the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, then missed two seasons with a knee injury before scoring six touchdowns with the San Francisco 49ers in 2020.
“He’s experienced,” Reid said. “He’s been doing this awhile and he does it well. He sure has a nice feel for the pass game. I look forward to giving him the whole package once we get [to training camp] and let’s see what he can do once we get playing real football.”
As a rookie last season, Edwards-Helaire led the Chiefs in rushing with 803 yards despite missing three games with injuries. He also caught 36 passes, but didn’t have much of an impact as a receiver.
He could benefit as the Chiefs look to make up the catches and yards lost from wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who left as a free agent.
“It’s just making sure he has a better understanding of exactly what we’re doing,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said of Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick last year. “When you come in as a rookie, obviously everything is brand new and every week is a new playbook for you in a sense. So he’s had an opportunity to get a season under his feet.
“Everything is starting to make more sense to him. With the wisdom he had obtained in our system, it’s going to help him to know exactly what we expect him to do when placed in certain situations.”
To help him become more productive as a receiver, Edwards-Helaire worked on catching passes from different distances and angles.
“Not just 10 yards out and straight ahead,” he said. “Just catching high balls, low balls. I’m not the tallest guy so just being able to have a wider catch radius for my height was kind of my thing, expanding that.
“I wouldn’t say it was a problem last year but just [trying to] understand our offense. We move the ball around, we spread the field. Why not work on something that I feel like I can improve on? So that was one of my steps.”