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The NFL was done with Jamaal Charles, but he wasn’t done with it

A knee injury left the Chiefs’ all-time leading rusher’s future in doubt. The Broncos gave him a second chance and hope.

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

DENVER — NFL bye weeks can be a time to reflect. But not for Jamaal Charles. He has already done plenty of that, pondering for countless hours how he rolled from Kansas City to Denver, how he thought he would be a Chief for life and now is a Bronco for at least a season.

How he went from red carpet NFL running back rank to a backup, resurgent role.

Denver (3-1) is on its bye and Charles is healthy once again, sculpting a niche in his new home, full of hope once again, recovered from a busted knee and a broken heart.

"People thought my talent had just gone away," he said softly. "No, I’ve always been a special guy. No, it’s still there. I got credibility."

You hear it and it might sound smug but there was not an ounce of that when he said it. Just steel exhibited that any top-shelf NFL running back must seize when he is sent packing by his old team and must create new triumphs with his new one.

Adrian Peterson is feeling it in New Orleans, struggling to locate his nook. LeGarrette Blount is capturing it in Philadelphia. Eddie Lacy looks for more in Seattle. Marshawn Lynch scorched in his Oakland start and now fights a fizzle. Latavius Murray finally gets his crack this weekend in Minnesota.

Each is in a new place for different reasons, but like Charles, yearn to prove their old teams made a mistake. That it’s not over.

"The memories in Kansas City are there," Charles said. "It’s normal to lose yourself in those. But reality is it’s the past. It’s behind me. I’ve got something in front of me. I’ve got goals."

Nine Charles seasons in Kansas City and now he is gone.

Charles turns 31 in December, played at Texas, was a Chiefs third-round pick in 2008, and has been one of the NFL’s most electric players.

He shifted, juked, and blazed his way to the Chiefs’ all-time rushing yards leader. Five times he rushed for more than 1,000 yards with a career-high 1,509 in 2012. At 5’11, 199 pounds, there was always sway in his running and force, too. Even now, with nearly 7,500 career rushing yards, he is also the NFL’s all-time leader in average rushing yards gained (5.4) per carry.

He tore up his left knee in 2011 and overcame that surgery. He ripped his right one in 2015 and could not rise above it in Kansas City’s thinking. The Chiefs released him last February.

"(Chiefs head coach) Andy (Reid) called me in and told me that I would be a Chief for life as far as he was concerned and he was pretty emotional about it," Charles said. "We still talk. Nine years just gone in an instant. Injuries come in football. It’s something you can’t control. They had their goals. I was no longer a part of them."

He visited Seattle and a couple of other teams in March, he said, but eventually was told that the Chiefs just might be right about his knee. That the recovery, the costs, and the risks made him expendable.

"So, I went back to Dr. (James) Andrews and told him, ‘Hey, they are not seeing what you are seeing’ and I feel like I have no hope," Charles said. "He said, ‘I worked on your knee. I know your knee. You just have to build the quad muscle stronger. You’ll be like Jamaal then.’ Dr. Andrews really gave me hope. He built my hope."

Charles did the rest.

For the next few weeks, he returned to Kansas City and found a special trainer and friend.

Alphonso Hodge played cornerback with the Chiefs (2004-2006) and Jets (2007-2008). He owns the DoWorkFactory2.0 training facility in Kansas City.

Hodge said his teammates always applauded him for his training. And once he suffered a knee injury that helped cut his NFL career short, he dove into the training profession as a new career.

"I was able to be Jamaal’s trainer and friend and was able to draw on the experience I had with knee surgery," Hodge said. "When I first got with Jamaal, I could see the toll on him. It was very hard for him. He had gone from a star to now people wondering if he could do it. At one point he was a Hall of Fame certainty and clearly the greatest running back in Chiefs history and now it was if that meant nothing.

"Jamaal has always been a workhorse, so guiding him was easy in that way. But he wanted to do the speed, everything fast right away. The hard part was keeping him in the process because of his fire. We worked on the core, his quad first. It was like we had to build and recreate that muscle. After about four months, he was night and day. He began to look like himself. He had hope once again. Jamaal wants 10,000 career rushing yards. Jamaal wants to be part of that elite club and more. He wants to play at least two to three more years. He wants to win a Super Bowl."

Charles had played nine seasons, Hodge said. He said Charles could have easily been satisfied and concluded it was enough. That his career had plenty of sparkle.

But Jamaal Charles was not interested in reflection.

His talent was not gone, he insisted.

He has always been a special guy, he asserted.

He’s got credibility, he vowed.

In May the Rams were interested. The Cleveland "Bears" (Charles had to be reminded it was the Browns), were, too.

But the Broncos connected most with Charles. He signed on May 2.

"In rehab, my approach was to kill it, and Alphonso really helped me to do that," Charles said. "I signed a one-year deal. C.J. (Anderson) is a great back and he’s the guy here. We’re figuring out how I fit in here."

He showed here on last Sunday in Denver’s 16-10 victory over the Raiders that he is healthy. He ran between the tackles — not bouncing outside to avoid contact — as if he knows his status and form are true. He looked quick. He looked fast. Denver rushed for 143 yards and Charles gained 33 on five carries.

Through four Broncos games in his 33 rushing attempts, he leads the team with a 5.3 average yards gained per carry. He is part of a potentially potent running game that thus far has outrushed opponents an impressive 572 yards to 203 yards. Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy promises in this deep Denver backfield, Charles will continue to surface, will contribute, will get the ball in key spots in key games.

It may not be red carpet treatment for Jamaal Charles, but there is still magic in the ride.

Something splendid in it about hope and a singular chance to look forward, not backward.

"I thought I would play all of my career in Kansas City," Charles said. "But I feel good here. They opened their arms to me here and gave me a chance. They gave me hope."

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