Team may have
waited too long
to let RB loose

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Both optimists and pessimists among Kansas City’s long-suffering fans are pointing to Jamaal Charles as proof that their side is right.
The emergence of the quiet running back with rare sprinter’s speed, say the optimistic, gives hope for better days to come.
But to the pessimistic, Charles is further evidence that first-year head coach Todd Haley and his coaches couldn’t pick a quality football player out of a lineup. The Chiefs’ brain trust thought so little of the second-year pro they stuck him on the bench at the beginning of the year and even made him inactive for one game. In the meantime, former Pro Bowler Larry Johnson was struggling week after week to get past the line of scrimmage.
Finally, on Oct. 25, Johnson booted up his computer and tweeted himself out of town. Suspended for making gay slurs and critical comments about his coach, Johnson was traded to Cincinnati and Charles was summoned from the second team.
It was like the Chiefs found a winning lottery ticket stuck to the bottom of their shoe. Since he got rolling on Nov. 8, Charles has rushed for 745 yards — more than anyone in the National Football League except Tennessee’s Chris Johnson.
With 139 yards at Denver in the regular-season finale on Sunday, he will hit 1,000 yards — not bad for a guy who’ll have played for little more than half a season.
“I think that would be real special. I would come back next year with a lot of confidence,” he said. “This season, I was playing kind of nervous. I wasn’t even really out there playing with the guys like I’ve been playing. But I’m starting to be more comfortable. I’m starting to feel myself, like I can really be a good back.”
For Haley and first-year general manager Scott Pioli, this entire season has been about laying a foundation for things to come after inheriting a team that won only two games in 2008. Record-wise, there’s been precious little progress. They go into the regular-season finale with only three wins. But Charles gives them something special to build an offense around.
One of the fastest backs in the league, he was a bronze medal winner in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2003 World Youth Championships and won the 100-meter dash at the Big 12 outdoor championships for Texas.
Providing a home run threat the Chiefs have lacked for years, Charles has a 97-yard kickoff return against Pittsburgh and a 76-yard touchdown run against Buffalo. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards three weeks in a row.
“You have to know where he is at on every play and you can’t ever underestimate how fast he is,” said Denver coach Josh McDaniels. “His speed is special. There aren’t many players in the league that you could say that about. He gets to the corner very easily and even sometimes when you feel like you’ve got good leverage on a blocker or whatever it may be, he can still go around the corner.”
An early knock on the Port Arthur, Texas, native was a tendency to fumble. But that has not been a problem lately.
In last week’s 7-point loss to Cincinnati, he seemed only one step away from breaking several long runs. His emergence as a threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball has probably been a factor in a decreasing number of sacks because the defense has something new to worry about.
Haley is not swayed by the nearness of a 1,000-yard season.
“We’ve got a chance to go on the road against a team that’s fighting to get into the playoffs that happens to be in our division and we could knock them out,” he said. “So, I think that’s No. 1 for everybody. The 1,000-yard thing is a number that back a few years ago was a big-time thing.”
He is excited, however, at the prospect of going into 2010 with a high-quality, hardworking running back.
“The important thing for Jamaal is when he got his opportunity he stepped in and he’s continued, although not perfect, to get better each week and raised the bar for himself,” Haley said. “Where we thought he was maybe a 15-to 16-carry-a-game guy, he’s kind of pushing to say, ’I can handle more.”’