ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) — Todd Haley remembers watching Kelly Gregg stuff the Kansas City Chiefs’ vaunted rush attack. He has vivid memories of punishing fullback Le’Ron McClain clearing the way for Ray Rice.
So when both players became available during free agency, the Kansas City head coach was on board with signing them. And now, just a few short months after helping the Baltimore Ravens eliminate the Chiefs from the playoffs, the veteran duo is being counted on to help them get back.
“Really, I’m just coming in and doing anything I can to help the team win,” said McClain, a two-time Pro Bowl fullback. “If I have to block, I’m going to do that. If I need to run, I’ll do that. ... It’s not about me, it’s about the Chiefs.”
That’s precisely the attitude that Haley expects.
McClain earned a bit of a diva reputation in Baltimore, where he once ran for more than 900 yards but had been relegated almost exclusively to blocking duty the past couple years. That led to him openly campaigning to run the football, and when McClain decided to pursue other options, the Ravens signed a replacement.
The former Alabama star eventually wound up in Kansas City, where McClain will be doing the same kind of work, only this time for the shifty backfield of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones.
“He’s a big, physical fullback that’s obviously in the past shown really good run ability in the year he had the chance to carry the ball,” Haley said. “But we’re very clear: He’s coming in to be our fullback first and foremost.”
McClain said that’s fine with him.
“We’re here to win, man, we’re here to win. If that’s getting Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles over a thousand yards apiece, that’s what I’m here to do,” said McClain, who will get a chance to see the Ravens when they play the Chiefs in a preseason game Aug. 19 at Baltimore.
The typically tight-lipped Haley said recently that upgrading the fullback position was a “must” for the Chiefs this year. The only other viable options were Shane Bannon, a seventh-round draft pick out of Yale, and Mike Cox, who had been the No. 2 fullback since he graduated from Georgia Tech three seasons ago.
The 6-foot, 260-pound McClain represents a significant improvement. He’s a better lead blocker than them, is adept at picking up the blitz, should give the Chiefs a bruising option at the goal line — something they lacked entirely last year — and can even catch the ball out of the backfield if things break down around quarterback Matt Cassel.
McClain also brings a winning resume, having played in seven playoff games for Baltimore.
“He’s a guy, coming out of college, when I was in Arizona, we had a fullback need and he’s a guy we targeted and really liked and weren’t able to get him,” Haley said. “But we’ve obviously seen a bunch of him and saw him up close and personal in our playoff game last year where he was an active part of their success against us.
“I’m glad he’s on our side, I think.”
Haley offered similar sentiments for the 34-year-old Gregg, a grizzled 12-year veteran who the Chiefs hope still has something left. Defensive tackle was another of the “must” improve areas and, although there were more high-profile options available, the Chiefs decided to bring in another player with a winning pedigree.
“Kelly Gregg is one of those guys, I’ve talked about them, probably coming out the odds were stacked against him right out of the gate — not prototypical size and speed and those things,” Haley said. “He didn’t listen to any of it.
“As an offensive coach and offensive coordinator, he’s been a major pain to deal with,” Haley added. “He’s at an older age — can he still play? According to that game at Arrowhead, he can still play.”
The Chiefs lost last starting nose tackle Ron Edwards to Carolina and backup Shaun Smith to Tennessee, so they’re gambling that Gregg can plug up the middle for a defense that struggled to stop the run last year.
They also hope the affable Gregg can tutor a cadre of young players poised to eventually take over, including sixth-round draft pick Jerrell Powe, of whom the front office is quite enamored.
“Being in that defensive line with all those young guys, makes me feel young,” Gregg said with a smile. “I’m going to have to keep up with these guys. They’re talented.”
Added Haley: “He’s been around great players and teams, and that’s always a good thing, and I think you’re seeing that right away. He’s going to be a positive influence for all those young guys, that entire room, and for me that’s going to be a resource.”