DENVER - He was quick through the hole, then was about to make one of his patented cuts left for a big gain.
Jamaal Charles was flashing Jamaal again.
"I thought Jamaal was impressive,'' said Broncos head coach Vance Joseph.
But then, something went wrong. Charles seemed to buckle at his right knee while making the cut. Instead of breaking it off at time-warp speed like he did so many times in his previous football life with the Kansas City Chiefs, he settled for a 12-yard gain.
"I was reading the tackler and everything so I ended up cutting the other way and I couldn't stay on my feet quite well and the next thing you know I had a big blow right there,'' Charles said.
When Charles went into the trainer’s tent a couple plays later, there was fear something was amiss with his knee. After all, he had two surgeries on his right knee in the previous two seasons.
Turns out, Charles was getting evaluated for a concussion. As he was stumbling down following his awkward cut, a Green Bay defender hit him but good in the helmet.
"It wasn't my knee,'' Charles said. "You should have saw the hit.''
He was cleared to return, which he did during the Broncos’ 2-minute drill at the end of the first half. The awkward cut? Nothing more than two years of rust.
In his first game with the Broncos, Charles had four carries for 27 yards, and two catches for 15 yards. He helped the Broncos rally from a 10-0 deficit to tie the Green Bay Packers, 10-10 at halftime in the preseason game Saturday night at eventually-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Packers, 20-17.
"I felt like a Bronco today,'' Charles said.
"Watching him play really well in live ball is really cool for all of us to see,'' said Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian. "We were all just like everybody else. We wanted to see him go, so that was fun.''
Afterwards, Joseph said Charles would be with the team for the season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.
"Yeah, yeah I hope so, absolutely,'' Joseph said.
"He hadn't played football in almost a year-and-a-half,'' Joseph said of Charles. "To take the contact and find the open spaces the way he did. He caught the ball well, his protections were good. I was hoping he looked like that tonight so I was pleased.''
To open the second half, Broncos backup quarterback Paxton Lynch led a field goal drive for a 13-10 lead but he also suffered a right shoulder injury while getting sacked on the final offensive play of the series. Joseph said it was a bruised shoulder and while Lynch will undergo an MRI on Sunday, it didn't appear to be serious. There is even hope he can play the first half against the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth and final preseason game Thursday.
Kyle Sloter came off the bench and threw a 21-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline to Hunter Sharp. Sloter, an undrafted rookie from Northern Colorado, is still headed for the practice squad, not the 53-man roster.
"He's our third (quarterback) right now,'' Joseph said. "He played well again. And I've been impressed with Kyle. He's been really solid through camp and through the three games he's played. But he stands where he stands.''
Charles may have been a little rusty but he also flashed just enough superior quickness to show the Broncos’ decision makers he can bring a dynamic element to their offense. After he was asked a few questions as to whether he had made the team, Charles was told his coach had said he'd be there.
"I'm just excited to be a Bronco and take care of my family,'' Charles said. "That's why I do it for. I've got three little kids and a wife. If I don't take care of my kids, I don't take care of my family, we don't eat. It's part of my job.''
When Charles plays game 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers, he would be assured of making $1,328,125. He can make an additional $78,125 per game, or $1.25 million if he plays in all 16 games. He can make an another $1.25 million if he reaches 1,400 all-purpose yards and the Broncos reach the playoffs. The Broncos want to pay him every cent.
The bet here is the Broncos would have a better chance of making the postseason with Charles than without him.
"What Jamaal brings, it's a speed element we haven't had in a long time,'' Joseph said. "Third downs, catching the ball out of the backfield. He's an explosive receiver. I mean he's a guy that can make a big play at any time. That's a nice player to have on your offense, along with C.J. (Anderson) and (Devontae) Booker, it's going to be a four- to five-man backfield that's going to be special.''
The third preseason game was not an easy game to evaluate. The team’s two stars -- Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Broncos pass rusher Von Miller -- each played only two series.
Miller picked up a sack, but Rodgers left with a 10-0 lead even though he was only 3 of 5 for 12 yards.
Siemian started slowly in his first game since he was annointed as the Broncos' No. 1 quarterback as he threw a bad interception that led to a Packers touchdown. But Siemian rallied. After starting 2 of 7 for 12 yards, he finished 11 of 15 for 115 yards. Siemian also scrambled for 16 yards during the Broncos’ first-half touchdown drive. C.J. Anderson capped it with an untouched 16-yard run through an enormous hole.
"I think I just ended up moving around a little bit,'' Siemian said of his turnaround. "I made a play and kind of got in a rhythm from then on. The pick stunk and a couple other plays I'd like to do over again. It's good to kind of get into the flow of the game. That was the first time, really. The first two games, you're in and you're out.''
The first half featured a pushing and yelling incident between Broncos’ linebacker Todd Davis and … teammate Aqib Talib. Davis was involved in a heated exchange with a Packer when Talib came in and pushed Davis away. Davis took offense and the two were spotted yelling at each other for a couple more minutes.
"Just some miscommunication,'' Talib said. "I just tried to calm him down a bit, you got to tone it down.''
"He was trying to get me off the field because it was a third down play and you don't want to take a penalty there,'' Davis said. "What got me is I tackled the guy and then he tackled me. I'm like, what is that?''
And the dustup with Talib?
"That's just family,'' Davis said. "We're all good.''
In the second half, nice runs by rookie tailback De'Angelo Henderson and Lynch moved the ball close enough for Brandon McManus to kick a 46-yard field goal. McManus is 7 of 7 in field goals this preseason, including 5 of 5 from at least 40 yards.
Lynch headed to the locker room after the drive, though, with a shoulder injury. Sloter replaced him.
In the final drive of the third quarter, Sloter completed a 20-yard pass to Sharp to the Packers' 21, then a 21-yard pass to Sharp for a touchdown. Sloter also played well in the Broncos' first two preseason games.
Four Broncos suffered injuries in the game as besides Lynch, defensive tackle Zach Kerr left with a right knee injury, Demaryius Thomas with a groin or thigh pull and Will Parks with a hip pointer None were considered serious. Kerr said his initial diagnosis was a mild, low-grade MCL sprain, but that he would be ready for the Chargers.
"Absolutely,'' he said. "I wanted to go back in the game but they wanted to be cautious.''
The Broncos are now 3-0 in the preseason under Joseph, who is in his first year as head coach. Broncos backup and third-string players will play in the fourth and final preseason game Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals in Denver.
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