There may be some worries about McCluster’s size and the fear of overusing such a talented young runner, but Dexter feels like he’s ready to carry the burden.
“I know a lot of people may doubt me,” McCluster said, “but how many times the coach wants to give me the ball, how many times he calls my number, I promise I’ll be there.”
The Chiefs list McCluster at 5’8” and 170 pounds, making him the smallest player on the team in terms of both height and weight. As for worries that he may be vulnerable to injury with his size, McCluster declared, “I don’t feel I’m going to wear down.”
McCluster doesn’t have a serious history of injuries, but there were doubts coming from many teams as to whether he was worth the risk. While playing for the Ole Miss Rebels, McCluster was clearly a workhorse and a main reason why the team entered the 2009 season with BCS title hopes.
The label of being a workhorse didn’t faze the Chiefs any; clearly, the team saw plenty of potential in McCluster to draft him over players such as Torrell Troup and Jimmy Clausen, both of whom were reportedly on the coaches’ radar.
McCluster was a special at Ole Miss.
What the Chiefs need to be careful of is overusing him. This past season when McCluster played for Ole Miss, he suffered minor back spasms which not only caused him to slow down in a 33-20 loss to Auburn, it caused him to sit out most of the following week’s game against Northern Arizona.
Following the game against Auburn, Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt had this to say about McCluster’s injury: “That really hurt us. Everything is built around him… You worry about how many touches you give him and how many times he can touch it with his weight and size.”
In that game, McCluster tallied 186 yards on 22 carries and scored one touchdown. This came a week after racking up 260 all-purpose yards. Just a week after seeing limited action against Northern Arizona, McCluster played again with full force in a 42-17 victory against Tennessee in which he broke the Rebel’s rushing record and registered 324 all-purpose yards.
But that was last season, and that was the college game. McCluster surely has to change up his game, either by slowing it down or making sure he doesn’t become a workhorse as he used to be. That shouldn’t be the case since Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles will be seeing action as running backs, and McCluster will be lining up with Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers as a receiver.
His workload should be balanced among the other talent surrounding him. Beginning this fall, things are going to be different for Dexter.
“It’s a whole different ballgame,” McCluster said of the NFL. It surely may be a different ballgame for McCluster on the field, and hopefully a new chapter in a career in which can silence all of his doubters.
Is McCluster the next Wes Welker?
McCluster is expected to be used primarily as a slot receiver, but may see action as either the kick or punt returner. The Chiefs are counting on him to possibly become their own version of both Wes Welker and Joshua Cribbs. McCluster himself doesn’t have a preference as to whether he’ll return kickoffs or punts.
“It really doesn’t matter. Punt return[ing] is more exciting: you get the ball, you’ve got to use your instincts right away. Then again, in the kickoff return, you have time to analyze the field, set up your blocks and make a play.”
So far at training camp in St. Joseph, McCluster has been seeing action returning kicks, but also catching passes from the quarterbacks in drills.
“I haven’t done it for a while, but coming out and doing it here every day has made me more comfortable in each phase. So I want to make sure I’m ready for either one.”
Either way, McCluster said that he’s felt natural on the field.
“In college, they shied away from [using me as returner], but once you do it and you have the instinct and the neck for it and the will to do it, it’s not going to go anywhere, it’s going to come naturally.”
Speed is probably the most natural thing attributed to McCluster and during organized team activities this past spring, he showed just how fast he can be. On May 28, I saw with my own eyes McCluster run so fast that he split the sole of his shoe in half. It came on a play in which he blew past the defense on what surely would have been a touchdown. McCluster noted that the same thing had happened while he was at Ole Miss, but rather to the shoe on his other foot.
With Thomas Jones on the roster, McCluster can concentrate on receiving and special teams.
McCluster knows plenty about the talk of him being the fastest player on the team and note him for his speed. “A lot of people look at me and say ‘man, you were moving’, but I feel like I could be a little faster. It feels a little different when you’re doing it but once you sit down and watch film, I’m like ‘man, that looked pretty nice.’”
McCluster has received some sound advice from another speedy player who gets flak for his size, Jamaal Charles, and says that the two have created a great rapport with each other. “I can learn from him and some things he can learn from me. Working together… we can make plays.”
Lastly, McCluster has heard the whispers about Chiefs fans already claiming him to be a “secret weapon” for the team heading into the future, and regardless of their nickname for him or expectations, he’s ready to live up to the hype.
“Whatever it may be, I’m ready to step up to the challenge.”