The welcoming of Jamaal Charles to practice Tuesday, however brief his participation, became a chorus.
“He stepped on the field today and everybody was excited that he was out here,” Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub said. “It’s just good to see No. 25 out on the field.”
Cornerback Steven Nelson said seeing Charles gave the team a bounce.
“We love 25, man, glad to have him back,” Nelson said.
Even running back Spencer Ware, asked about Charles after the Chiefs’ preseason opener Saturday, said the Chiefs long for their career rushing leader to return.
“We can’t wait for him to come back,” Ware said. “We’ll welcome in back with big arms.”
Unquestionably, Charles brings a talent and spirit to the Chiefs and his absence as an elusive back and good hands receiver out of the backfield has been missed since he tore an anterior cruciate ligament during the fifth game last season against the Bears. Charles saw action Tuesday for the first time since, going through stretching and individual drills before returning to the locker room in a planned process.
But there is also this: Of the stars who haven’t part of Chiefs training camp for various reasons — outside linebacker Justin Houston and Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry along with Charles — the loss most easily absorbed has been running back.
It was true throughout the games Charles missed last season and in training camp because of the talents of the players who have been logging the attempts — Ware, Charcandrick West and Knile Davis.
And of that group, Ware may have made the biggest impression.
Ware started the preseason game and scored the Chiefs’ lone touchdown in a 17-16 loss to the Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium. Ware capped the Chiefs’ opening drive with a 1-yard scoring run. He played the first two series, gained 24 yards on five attempts, including a long of 11 yards.
West was the second running back to play and his status for Saturday’s preseason game in Los Angeles is in doubt after he injured an elbow against the Seahawks. West missed his second straight practice on Tuesday.
If that means more action for Ware, he’s ready.
“Whatever is needed,” Ware said. “I have to rise to the occasion.”
That’s what occurred last season, when Charles went down and the season looked lost. The Chiefs fell to 1-4. A loss the next week at Minnesota put the team in a deep hole.
But back the Chiefs came with Ware and West sharing the load at running back. West got nine starts, Ware two. The pair combined for 1,037 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, along with 26 receptions.
Ware’s portion of the production included a 5.6 yards per carry average, and according to Pro Football Focus he led all backs with at least 50 attempts in yards after contact.
Before last season, Ware had played in two NFL games, in 2013 with the Seahawks, who made the LSU back their sixth-round draft selection earlier in the year.
Ware signed with the Chiefs at the end of the 2014 season and was activated off the practice squad for the first time when the Chiefs played the Lions in London in Week 8. Ware scored his first NFL touchdown in that game.
He has been an important part of the Chiefs since, gaining confidence and earning trust of his coaches. On March 31, Ware and West signed contract extensions.
“I’m not telling you he’s the fastest guy, he doesn’t need to be the fastest guy,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “But he’s got great vision and he’s got good feet and can catch.
“He’s got to continue to work on his pass block. That’s his challenge. He’s just got to be able to do that and you that with the young runners. That’s something they’ll keep working on.”
The Chiefs are better with all of their running back pieces in place, and Ware’s admiration for Charles is genuine. “Jamaal does what he does and he’s great at it,” Ware said. “As for us young guys we just try to follow in his footsteps.”
It’s also true that because of talents like Ware and depth at the position, those footsteps weren’t overly deep, and the Chiefs survived the loss of one of their best players.