Jamaal Charles sought to put to rest any fears the Chiefs and their fans might have about his ability to return from last season’s knee injury as one of the NFL’s premier running backs.
"If you’re worrying about me not being the same, just look out for me this year," Charles said Tuesday. “I’m hungry. I want it this year. I’ve got the passion for it. I just can’t wait to play football. I can’t wait to bring stuff back to this community and show them how much we can win. I feel like this is a year for us that we can go all the way. I’m saying that because I feel it in me that I can bring a lot to the team this year, being bigger, stronger and maybe even faster.”
Later, apparently speaking to Chiefs opponents, Charles continued.
“When I touch that field again, you’re going to feel my pain,” he said. “You’re going to go through what I went through. It’s going to be that way for me the rest of my career.”
Those are bold statements from Charles, who wasn’t given to such declarations before the torn knee ligaments in a September game in Detroit that ended his season. Charles subsequently had surgery to repair the damage.
But Charles indicated the injury changed him. He said he’s suddenly feeling his mortality in a sport that chews up all players but particularly running backs at a relatively young age.
“I don’t want to be (on the sideline) for a whole year ever again,” he said. “I’m 25 years old. I’m at a point in my life that I’ve got to win games. I want to go to the playoffs. I want to go to the Super Bowl.”
The Chiefs have their first off-season set of practice sessions this weekend when they stage a three-day rookie camp. Veterans like Charles won’t participate. The first full-squad practice is scheduled for May 21.
Charles indicated he was told by Chiefs trainer Dave Price that he needs to be cleared by his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, before he can participate then.
“I feel I’m at the point where I can do that,” Charles said. “I feel I can do the same thing my teammates do. I do it without the coaches around. I catch the ball, I cut, I do a lot of drills and I’ve been doing this for two months.”
Either way, Charles said he would be at full strength in plenty of time for the Sept. 9 season-opener against Atlanta at Arrowhead Stadium. He began his rehabilitation shortly after his surgery and said he’s well ahead of schedule.
“In my mind, I feel like I never had the surgery,” Charles said. “I feel normal. I feel like I can do everything everybody else can do and I can do it even better.
“I got to work on my upper body. I got to get myself stronger and bigger. That was the focus for the first three months. The doctors said it takes six months for you to fully recover. I’m past six months. After four months I was running and cutting and jumping.”
Charles was injured against the Lions in the season’s second game when he slipped while stepping on a first-down marker on the sideline. He then crashed into the costumed Lions mascot, but by then the damage had been done.
“Somebody said I should sue the NFL but I can’t do that,” Charles said. “You would have thought it would have slid because it’s a slick thing. But it stayed (in place). I fell down and I just felt something hot on my knee. I tried to stand up and it was over. It was a freakish play.
“Normally I’d be hurt and I’d just walk off the field. I told (Price) ‘I’m just going to walk.’ He told me no. I said, ‘I’m going to stand up. I don’t want to go to the locker room. I want to go to the sideline.’ I tried to stand to and that’s where my knee buckled.…”
Charles is returning to a slightly different world than the one he left. Coach Todd Haley has been replaced by Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Bill Muir by Brian Daboll.
He will share the featured back role with not Thomas Jones, but Peyton Hillis, the 250-pound free-agent acquisition.
“He’s the same as Thomas Jones,” Charles said. “He’ll come in and get all the tough yards and all the pounding. That’s the same thing that Thomas did. I’m not a selfish player. I just want to win. If he can contribute to the team and put points on the board, why not? I don’t care about yards. I feel like if every week we can win a game, I’ve got no complaints.
“I like his game. He’s athletic and big and strong. Nothing against Thomas Jones but (Hillis) brings something to the team like (Le’Ron) McClain but he’s playing tailback instead. He’s bringing power and explosiveness and he’s strong. He’s going to catch the ball and he’s got great hands and I feel he’s an all-around player like me.”