, Port Arthur, Texas

June 22, 2013

Jamaal enters athletic prime

David Coleman
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — At 26, Port Arthur native Jamaal Charles is entering his athletic prime.

The running back should be poised for a prime season with the Kansas City Chiefs, but once again must deal with offensive turnover. In the last four years, Charles has seen four different offensive coordinators, but this year, the change goes deeper than just one coach.

“From my first year, I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Charles said. “They came in and scooped up everybody from the GM to the head coach, players, the training room, the front office and strength coaches. It’s a lot of changes. It definitely reminds me I’m not in the same place. It feels like I’m around a new environment.”

In a wide ranging interview at his youth football camp in Port Arthur on Friday, Charles talked about new head coach Andy Reid and the West Coast offense he brings, his health last season, his goals for the upcoming campaign and more.

After Kansas City finished with the worst record in the NFL at , the team cleaned house, firing general manager Scott Pioli and head coach Romeo Crennel. In their places, the Chiefs hired former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid and former Packers director of football operations John Dorsey as GM.

With Reid comes a new offense and new opportunity for Charles.

“I feel good about it,” Charles said. “My hopes are high. I’m 26 years old. They say that’s when you top your peak, when you’re that age. I’ve got a great opportunity with Andy Reid. With the past history he has with Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy, I can’t go wrong with that. You won’t know how good I am until I get into the system. Everyone knows I’m pretty good, but you won’t know for sure until I get into the system.”

Reid’s version of the West Coast offense popularized by former San Francisco head coach Bill Walsh is very friendly to running backs. In his time in Philadelphia, Reid helped bring along star runners like Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. Each player had multiple 1,000 yard rushing seasons in Philly while also adding plenty of catches out of the backfield.

Reid also had a reputation of not being committed to the run while with the Eagles. With Charles coming off a career-high 1,509 rushing yards in 2012, that’s not the best news for him. But, Charles is an underrated pass catcher who could put up big all-purpose numbers in this offense.

“Really, the sky is the limit with him with what we’re trying to do,” new offensive coordinator Doug Pederson told the Kansas City Star’s Adam Teicher. “You can use him more in the passing game. You’ve seen him split out as a single receiver or come out of the backfield. He’s a guy you can move around and put in different positions, motion out of the backfield or shift him out of the backfield. He catches the ball so well. We have to take advantage of that offensively.”

Charles’ big 2012 campaign, that also saw him score five rushing TDs and catch 35 passes for 236 yards and one TD, got him plenty of notice from the rest of the NFL. The former University of Texas runner was named No. 20 on NFL Network’s list of the Top 100 players in the NFL this season. That list is voted on by his NFL peers.

What’s amazing both about his placement on the list and his performance last season is that Charles admitted he was still a little hesitant about his knee. Charles saw his 2011 season wiped out in the second game of the year when he suffered a torn ACL while being tackled along the sideline.

Though he was healthy by the summer and played in all 16 games for the Chiefs, Charles said the knee was in the back of his mind when he was on the field.

“I’m definitely more comfortable and confident this year,” Charles said. “Coming off my knee injury, I didn’t feel like I couldn’t do all the things I should have last year, Now, I feel like I can do a lot of stuff, going back to my NFL sophomore and junior years. I feel like I can do a lot. I feel like I can line up at receiver now.

“I can go out there and cut (this year). Last year, I was scared to cut. I couldn’t really move. I was scared to make a move on the field. I was limping and I wasn’t really all the way healthy. Now, I feel comfortable and confident I can go out there and move around.”

The turnover in the organization didn’t just touch the coaching staff and front office. Kansas City’s roster added players at two key spots. With the top pick in April’s draft, the Chiefs selected left tackle Eric Fisher out of Central Michigan to bolster the offensive line.

In March, the Chiefs and the 49ers also completed a trade for quarterback Alex Smith. Kansas City sent its second-round pick in this year’s draft along with a conditional pick in 2014 for the 29-year old signal caller.

Smith was 6-2-1 as a starter in 2012, completing 70 percent of his passes for 1,737 yards, 13 TDs and five interceptions. An injury sidelined Smith in the middle of the season, allowing backup Colin Kaepernick to take over the team and lead the Niners to a Super Bowl appearance.

Kaepernick’s emergence made Smith expendable, but Charles said he should be a key addition to the Chiefs in 2013.

“There’s a big difference between Alex Smith and Matt Cassel,” Charles said. “I know there’s talent in (Smith). I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Matt Cassel. We went to the playoffs with Matt Cassel. I think he’s an amazing player. But, when someone goes out there to get a quarterback, it opens your eyes to how special someone really is. Alex has been playing at the top level. He can come in and change some stuff that Matt couldn’t do.”

Two years after his knee injury, Charles says his knee is not even a question for him anymore. That’s one of many reasons why expectations are so high for Charles this season. Teammate Dwayne Bowe predicted back in May that Charles would lead the league in rushing.

He’s also just 1,535 yards away from becoming the Chiefs career leader in rushing yards. Still, Charles himself isn’t looking at numbers or rushing titles just yet. This season is all about winning with a new staff and leading the Chiefs to a better record than in 2012.

“Everyone has their own opinions,” Charles said. “I’m just going out there and try to win games for my team. I’m going to be the same player every play, every down, trying to be the best. I want to be in the Hall of Fame some day. Whenever you step off the field in February, we can figure out how I did. Right now, all I know is that I’ve got a good coach with a good offense. He knows his players. We’ve got a good team and a good offensive team that can make me successful.”