KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kareem Hunt spent the first few weeks of the season doing what he called “dirty work,” which mostly amounted to carrying the ball late in games as the Kansas City Chiefs tried to run out the clock.
The Chiefs didn’t really need the NFL’s reigning rushing champ the way Patrick Mahomes and the rest of the offense was sizzling. So there he was, one of the breakout stars of last season, getting brutally tough yards when the entire opposing defense was stacking the box.
He never complained. Never seemed down.
In fact, the second-year pro insisted all along that he would have his opportunities, once the rest of the league decided they’d better pay attention to the Chiefs’ passing game.
And lo and behold, that’s exactly what has happened the past few weeks, when the Chiefs have been able to pry open massive holes for him in the running game and Mahomes has been able to find him in the passing game.
“We don’t count touches,” Chiefs offensive lineman Cam Erving said. “We have a lot of weapons and when a team schemes for one thing, we have another one to pop it back with. Kareem has just done a great job of being patient and waiting for those moments to come.
“He grabs those moments,” Erving added, “and he finishes.”
He certainly lets the woebegone defender that gets in his way know, too. Rarely does the bruising, Walter Payton-esque running back go down on first contact. Often not second or third.
Take his most impressive run last week against Cincinnati, when he appeared to be bottled up near the sideline. Hunt made a nifty spin move to shake one defender, darted to his left to avoid a few more and then hurdled — without getting any head of steam — yet another before finally going down.
It was the biggest highlight on a night Hunt scored three touchdowns.
“I probably made the wrong read,” Mahomes said of the run-pass option, “and then I handed it to him. It should’ve been a tackle for a loss and then he broke a tackle and jumped over a dude. This is a very talented (Bengals) defense who have a lot of guys who are built to stop the run, and it just speaks to the strength and the power he has when he runs the football.”
Those raw physical skills have been on display the past four weeks, beginning with a win in Denver when Hunt ran for 121 yards and a touchdown and caught three more passes for 54 yards.
He followed up with a touchdown against Jacksonville, had 185 yards from scrimmage and another score against New England, and had 86 yards rushing and three touchdowns total against Cincinnati.
″(Hunt) makes it all go because you can’t simply ignore the guy,” said Broncos coach Vance Joseph, whose team gets another shot Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. “Our first game, he made most of the big plays, honestly. He’s a guy that runs downhill and he catches the ball in the pass game.”
In other words, he’s the perfect running back for a system that is predicated on misdirection.
“He did well last year, too,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “but he’s playing as well as any running back in the National Football League. He’s not only running the ball like crazy, he’s also catching the football. I actually took him out before he broke the 100-yard mark last week.
“He’s punishing people right now,” Reid added with a grin, “and it’s something to watch.”
Yet just like Hunt took his relative lack of production the first few weeks in stride, he’s done just the same with his sudden surge of success. He heaped praise on his offense line, showered Mahomes and the rest of the offense with accolades and complemented his coaches on getting him the ball.
“I’m just a guy who is going to come in and try my best to make every effort possible to score a touchdown,” he said. “It’s not even about me. It’s about the team winning. Whatever I can do to help the team win, I’m a team guy. I’m down to do whatever.”
Hunt did finally let his bravado show a little when Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris, who was dressing nearby, described him as “a bull.” Hunt thought for a moment and decided that was a pretty good label, then he realized that bulls don’t really carry much workload.
“I like to be an ox, too,” he said.
Notes: Free safety Daniel Sorensen (broken leg) returned to practice Wednesday. He’d been on the IR since early in training camp and is eligible to play in games beginning Week 8. … Strong safety Eric Berry (heel), Linebacker Justin Houston (hamstring) and center Mitch Morse (concussion) did not practice. … Linebacker Terrance Smith tore his ACL on a kick return against Cincinnati, Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said. He went on IR earlier this week.