KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The assumption all along has been that the Chiefs' Spencer Ware would provide a nice stop-gap at running back until Jamaal Charles returned to full-time duty from his devastating knee injury.
Ware showed last weekend that he's not going anywhere.
In fact, he made quite an argument for bringing Charles out of the bullpen in a relief role.
The bruising fantasy darling ran 24 times for 131 yards and a touchdown to lead Kansas City to a 26-10 victory in Oakland . Ware also had a couple of nice catches, showcasing some of the same versatility that had made Charles a mainstay in the lineup.
''When you talk about Jamaal, you're talking about a Hall of Fame player. We always say, `You're not going to replace Jamaal, that's not what you do,''' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. ''But I don't want to take anything away from Ware and the way he plays. He's so tough.
''Having them both out there,'' Reid added, ''that's a win-win, I think.''
Indeed, Charles had more carries last weekend in his second game back from a torn ACL, and even found the end zone for the first time in more than a year. But it was Ware who carried the bulk of the load, and the former LSU standout will likely do the same on Sunday against New Orleans.
It was an especially encouraging sign given his struggles holding onto the ball lately.
Ware never fumbled once in high school or college, and had never fumbled into the NFL until he coughed up the ball in Week 2 in Houston. Then again the next week against the Jets. And again the next week in a 43-14 loss at Pittsburgh just ahead of the bye.
''You probably couldn't have painted a better picture for him, to bounce back in a sloppy game,'' Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. ''To have him go out there and not only run the way he did, but obviously ball-security is something that we put a huge premium on, and to see him bounce back from that made everyone - I know I was - really happy for him.''
The ideal would be for Ware and Charles to coexist, and that certainly seems possible. Ware may have shown some versatility this season but he remains a power back at heart, while Charles offers the kind of game-breaking speed that not even two surgically repair ACLs have taken away.
The challenge now is finding the right balance. How do the Chiefs provide each enough touches to get into a rhythm, feel like they're a part of the offense and, ultimately, keep them happy?
''I think Andy and those guys on his staff have done a great job at adjusting the changes on offense with the players in the system,'' Saints coach Sean Payton said. ''You see the backs like Charles and Ware, the great job in coaching is taking those players and applying them each week.''
To their credit, Ware and Charles have been saying and doing all the right things. And for that matter, so has Charcandrick West, whose own role has diminished since Charles returned.
They all talk about how tightly knit the running back room is, and how they take pride in helping each other during games. And when Ware is ripping off big chunks of yards, like he was doing last week in Oakland, Charles and West are happy to cheer from the sideline.
''It was all the way around on offense,'' Charles said after the game. ''Spence did a great job running the ball. West did a great job when he was in there. So we all complement each other and we all feed off each other's energy.''
Good thing, too, because the Chiefs sure look like they're going to keep feeding Ware the ball.
Notes: LB Justin Houston (ACL surgery) came through his first practice well , defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. Houston will continue to work slowly into game shape. ''He did a very limited amount of individual (work),'' Sutton said Thursday. ''We have to be patient and smart.'' ... Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy didn't take umbrage with Raiders coach Jack Del Rio calling the Chiefs' offense ''gimmicky.'' In fact, he took it as a compliment. ''That's his opinion,'' Nagy said. ''There are some things we do in our offense that are a little bit different.''
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