For the second time in five years, Jamaal Charles spent the offseason rehabbing from a torn ACL, but he had new motivation as he toiled in the training room for the last six months.
During his first seven NFL seasons, Charles, a third-round pick from Texas in 2008, established himself as one of the league’s elite running backs, but he’d never tasted a playoff victory.
He still hasn’t after tearing ligaments in his right knee Oct. 13 against the Bears and missing the remainder of the 2015 season, but he thirsts for that opportunity.
“I was happy for them, but it just motivated me,” Charles, 29, said Monday at the Chiefs’ practice facility on the first day of offseason workouts. “Nothing but positive things for me came out of that experience. I was excited for my teammates and excited for the people that stepped up.”
Charles, who suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in 2011, said the recovery process hasn’t been remarkably different than five years ago. He’s running again and trying to rebuild strength in his right leg.
“Hopefully, I can be cutting coming up soon,” said Charles, whose career 5.7-yard average per carry is the best for any running back since the AFL/NFL merger.
He expects to be ready to roll for the start of training camp in July, but probably won’t be cleared for contact during organized team activities later this spring.
“That’s too fast to do something only five months out of surgery,” Charles said.
Instead, he’ll work on mental reps, rehabbing the knee and gaining upper-body strength.
“I feel like I can come back stronger,” Charles said. “There’s more new technology than there was back then, so I’m looking forward to the future and what it holds for me.”
Charles will return to a suddenly crowded backfield.
He has averaged more than 1,283 rushing yards, 1,680 yards of total offense and 11 touchdowns in five full seasons as the Chiefs’ starting tailback, but Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware emerged as viable weapons after Charles’ injury last season.
The Chiefs re-signed both West and Ware, who combined for 1,037 yards and 10 touchdown in 232 carries last season, but Charles doesn’t feel threatened.
“It’s something I’m blessed to be a part of,” Charles said. “That group of guys, they all want to be successful. I’m happy and want all of them to be successful too. Having a backfield like that, I don’t think any team in the NFL has a running back group like that.”
He isn’t worried about divvying up carries.
“I’m looking in the room, and it’s a beautiful room to be a part of,” Charles said. “Hopefully, Coach can put a four-running back package together and we’ll all be out there together.”
During his first season in Andy Reid’s offense, Charles racked up 70 receptions for 693 yards with seven touchdowns in the passing game.
Perhaps the emergence of West and Ware will free up Reid to deploy Charles in ever more creative and dynamic ways, splitting him wide more or motioning him from the backfield into the slot and creating matchup nightmares with his speed.
“Certainly, he has a different tool set from a running back perspective,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “I think Jamaal is a very unique guy — unique talent, unique tool set — and I think to pigeon-hole him would be wrong. One of the special things is that he does a lot, but I think all those guys have their own strengths. I do think that’s an advantage from a strategy standpoint to be able to take advantage of those guys’ strengths when they’re in, plugging them in and having them doing different things.”
However he’s utilized, Charles isn’t going to complain.
“Wherever Coach wants me to be at, I’m just going to be dedicated to that,” Charles said.
Winning is paramount. He’s eager to taste a playoff win of his own.
“Hopefully, it’s our year,” Charles said. “Hopefully, we can take that momentum from what they did this playoffs season and take it onto this upcoming season. That’s the goal. We’ve got a great team and we’ve got great brothers. As long as we stay together, it’s going to be hard to break us.”