Deeper Than Expected

Posted Oct 21, 2010

The NFL's top-ranked rushing attack has shown another wrinkle of its depth

Lookup a picture of Chiefs FB Mike Cox and you’re likely to see him with a giant band-aid striped across the nasal bone, just under his eyebrow line. The deep gash, which typically stays open throughout the fall and winter months, has become somewhat of a trademark for Kansas City’s thumper.

But this year, Cox entered the middle of October scratch- free. Mike’s wife might have liked seeing her husband without an open wound strung across his face, but for Mike, that means he hadn’t been playing.

All of that changed on Sunday.

Shortly into the game, Cox threw a block and the blood started to trickle down his nose and cheeks. Not long afterwards, the band-aid came out. Mike Cox was back.

“I got my nose busted up again and I really like felt part of the team in helping out with the running game,” Cox said. “It just felt really good to be back out there with my teammates.”

Prior to Sunday, Cox was one of just three healthy players to have been inactive for each of Kansas City’s first four games. It was a different experience for a player who entered 2010 with a streak of 32 consecutive games played since joining Kansas City as an undrafted rookie in 2008.

But with the Chiefs running-game thriving under Tim Castille as fullback, there really wasn’t much of a reason to activate Cox over the first quarter of the season.

Against Houston, Kansas City ran the football 38 times in an attack that looked to feature a heavier dose of a power, fullback-led, runs than in previous weeks. With Cox being a bigger, more traditional fullback than Castille, the move made sense. But Chiefs head coach Todd Haley indicated that the offensive game-plan didn’t dictate making a switch last Sunday; it was just time to give Cox a chance to play.

“We’ve run the ball very successfully throughout the year and Tim’s done a very good job as had Mike all the way leading up to the season,” Haley said. “When you’ve got to name 45 every Sunday it’s very difficult. That’s good, the more difficult some of those decisions are the better.

“I think that as far as I’m concerned, I’ve made it very clear to our players and our coaches that this is going to take everybody and I think that the good thing is we have some depth at some spots and we’ve got to utilize that depth and whether it’s being forced into utilizing or as in this case just go ahead and get somebody into the game and playing, we’ll do it both ways.”

A year ago, both Cox and Castille were active together most games. Cox served the role as a blocking back, while Castille offered Kansas City more flexibility out of the position. But in 2009, the Chiefs rushing situation was painted much differently than it is today.

By the end of the year, injuries pushed Castille into third-down duties and also found him as the primary backup to Jamaal Charles. Castille was also playing some fullback at the time as well. The Chiefs utilized both fullbacks by using different personnel packages for each. With a shortage of running backs, there was room on the 45-man roster to have multiple options at the fullback position.

But that’s not the case this year. Kansas City’s backfield is more crowded now with Charles, Thomas Jones, Jackie Battle and Dexter McCluster all being active each week. The number crunch leaves little room for one fullback, much less two, to be active on Sundays.

For that reason alone, many believed that the Chiefs would part ways with either Cox or Castille following a very competitive training camp battle at fullback. The Chiefs found a way, however, to keep both players on the team.

“We were both on (the 53-man roster) at the end of the year last year, so I don’t know what I was thinking (at the end of camp),” Cox said. “A lot of teams don’t’ even carry one fullback. I was a little anxious and I just wanted to go out there and make them keep me by playing as well as I could. But all along I was hoping we would both make it. Tim and I are great friends and we took it in stride and really professional by rooting for one another.”

For the first four games of 2010, Cox had been on the sidelines cheering for Castille to play well. When the tables turned in Houston, Castille did the same for Cox. That’s a clear sign that the players are taking Haley’s message about full-roster contributions to heart.

Being inactive isn’t an easy thing. The process is one that naturally pulls at any competitor, and it takes discipline to remain team-focused. Outside of injury or release, being a healthy inactive may be the most difficult thing for a veteran player to deal with during the course of a season.

Inactives aren’t announced to the public until 90 minutes prior to kickoff. For healthy players, they don’t get much of a jump on the public notice. When you find out you’re down on Sunday, it’s an unwelcome surprise.

“(We don’t know inactives) until Sunday right before the game,” Cox explained. “They don’t make the final decision on the final-45 until you go out there, run around, warm-up and then you come in and your stuff is gone. It’s a little disheartening. You feel bad because you want to be out there with the team. You work all week getting ready for the game and you want to be out there with them, but sometimes that’s just what it comes down to.”

With Castille in the lineup, Kansas City’s rushing game had flourished. When Cox finally received an opportunity to play, the output increased. That’s some good stuff.

Last Sunday, we saw yet another wrinkle to the Chiefs rushing offense and it showed that the team has even more depth at its deepest position than we might have originally realized.

Right now, the Chiefs have the best rushing attack in the league at 164.6 yards per game. The success has been a product of the offense as a whole, but six different players have now contributed to the rushing game out of Kansas City’s backfield.

Cox believes that experience and a new face have combined to help push the position group to the top.

“We have a great leader in Thomas Jones and we’re all veterans, so we know what we need to do and what it takes to get better,” Cox said. “Thomas is just showing us what it takes and I think we’ve all taken a good initiative. We know we have the ability and now we just want to go out and execute and have the best rushing attack in the league.”

Who knows who will be active in Kansas City’s backfield this weekend? The team has plenty of options.

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