ENGLEWOOD - From what Denver has seen of Jamaal Charles so far, he’s still Mr. Kansas City.
Bronco fans will finally get to see him run the ball for their team this Saturday night against the Green Bay Packers (Channel 20, pregame show at 6 p.m., kickoff at 7 p.m.)
Broncos head coach Vance Joseph says Charles is going to play early, and play often.
“I’m excited to play football,’’ Charles said. “Being in San Francisco last week and being on the field and smelling the popcorn, the hot dogs, I got excited.
“I’m really excited to play in that environment, here in Denver in front of their fans instead of being on the other side. I’m excited to be a player in my first Denver home game.’’
Charles was a sensational runner, receiver and scorer for five of his nine seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. For the second chapter of his career, he picked the AFC West rival Denver Broncos.
Some of the differences between organizations?
“First of all, the people around here, there’s more of a family environment around here,’’ Charles said in a sit-down interview Tuesday with 9News. “More family and friendly out here. From bringing your kids to work, bringing the kids in, you’re more with them. The Chiefs have a great organization with the Hunts and Andy Reid running the program and everything.
“But it’s just something about the whole program over here. It’s a winning program and a winning tradition. They’ve been part of (second-most) Super Bowls in what, the last (40) years? Around here it’s very different from the organization in Kansas City.’’
Although Charles was terrific when healthy with the Chiefs, his right knee went out two years ago, and he hasn’t produced much since.
The Chiefs let him go and he drew minimal interest until the Broncos signed him to a low-risk deal. He understands virtually everyone working in the NFL has doubts about whether he can return to form at 30 years old.
“I say it’s like an investment, you’ve got to take risks,’’ Charles said. “You’ve got to believe in yourself. Believe in yourself and everything will work out the right way.
“I have money in my account. I’ve made enough money in this league. I was just happy to be a part of a team. Denver’s been my team since I was a little kid so it was great opportunity to play and come here.’’
From the moment Charles arrived here on May 2, the Broncos all but placed him in bubble wrap. He did not participate in offseason practices. He practiced in training camp but not with contact. He did not play in the first two preseason games, although he did practice in full pads against the 49ers last week.
For practices this week he has shed the cumbersome brace he had been wearing on his right knee.
“The game plan was to keep me fresh because of me being hurt the last two years,’’ Charles said. “They know what I can do when I’m not hurt, when I’m healthy. So they wanted to keep me fresh and whatever they want me to do I’ll just follow whatever Greek (trainer Steve Antonopulos) tells me to do.’’
Finally, the Broncos will watch Charles run. C.J. Anderson as usual will be the starting tailback but Joseph said Charles would be part of the team’s first 15 plays. And go from there.
“This is going to be Jamaal’s shot to go do his thing,’’ Joseph said Monday. “He knows it. He’s ready.”
Because of Charles’ contract situation – he collects just $100,000 if he doesn’t make the team, but a minimum of $1.328 million if he is on the Broncos’ opening-day, 46-man roster against the Los Angeles Chargers on September 11 – there is some question as to the implications of the Packers’ game.
Does he need a strong performance, with no adverse effects to his body, to make the team? Or is this simply a one-and-only tune up for the opener against the Chargers?
“I’m just going out there to prove to myself,’’ he said. “I don’t have to prove to nobody else. I don’t owe anybody nothing. The only thing I owe, I owe Jamaal to go out there and show people Jamaal can play football.’’
He’s still got All Pro confidence. As he said, Charles didn’t come back for the money. He picked up 7,260 rushing yards in Kansas City and he’d like to reach five digits. If he should get to 10,000 yards, he’d become a possible first-ballot, Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate.
“That would be my goal to be a Hall of Famer when I retire,’’ he said. “That’s always in a running back’s mind to rush for over 10,000 in a career. So, that’s still in my mind and everything but I still would take a Super Bowl over all those yards and individual stats. I want a team goal.’’
Charles is the X factor for the Broncos this year. If he’s close to being Jamaal again, the Broncos should be back in the playoffs.
“I don’t want to put a collar on me and hold me back,’’ Charles said. “I want to let that dog go. That’s what I’m here for. I’m not here to be a dog on a leash. I’m here to help my team, help C.J., help this organization out to win the Super Bowl.’’
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