The Kansas City Chiefs’ all-time leading rusher signed an incentive-heavy contract with the Denver Broncos right after the draft. His lengthy history of knee problems, especially in the last two seasons, put a cap on his potential effectiveness as he heads into his 10th season.
But in a group that includes 2015 Pro Bowler C.J. Anderson, 2016 draft pick Devontae Booker and 2017 sixth-round choice De’Angelo Henderson, the Broncos aren’t counting on Charles to take the position and carry the team’s hopes of an improved ground game on his back.
In fact, they’re not counting on any one back to do all of the heavy lifting.
“The running back position, you need two or three guys that can carry the load,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “It is no longer a one-guy position,.
“I’m excited to have Jamaal, C.J., Book, even De’Angelo in the mix there. It’s a good group. It’s going to be competitive, and that’s the way it should be.”
But it will be a while before Charles is fully up to speed. He will be brought along slowly; his work during OTAs is expected to be limited to rehabilitation, playbook study and mental repetitions. That shouldn’t be much of a problem from Charles, who said May 9 that the Broncos’ playbook would be “easy” to learn.
“It’s our goal to get Jamaal healthy and if he’s healthy, he’s going to provide a spark in the element of speed that we needed as far as being an explosive offense,” Joseph said.
The Broncos have plenty of possibilities for providing that spark.
Adding speed — especially out of the backfield and in the slot — led them to use second- and third-day draft picks on Louisiana Tech wide receiver Carlos Henderson, Georgia wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie and De’Angelo Henderson, who caught 97 passes for Coastal Carolina in his time there.
“We wanted to add more speed to our offense, and that was accomplished,” Joseph said.
Still, the two Hendersons and McKenzie are just getting started. Charles, while battered by injuries, has a proven track record. Even if he can only deliver five to 10 touches per game, if he has even most of the explosiveness he showed as recently as the early stages of the 2015 season, he can bring the Broncos something they didn’t have last year.
Charles, for his part, is eager to show what he still has left.
“It feels weird coming to work, putting another jersey on. It definitely feels weird, but it’s exciting weird,” Charles said. “I’m excited about the new chapter. I’m excited about what’s ahead of me, and we’ll go from there.”
–Two years ago, the Broncos’ rookie minicamp was marred by the torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained by third-round pick Jeff Heuerman.
Big things were expected of the former Ohio State standout, but he missed his entire rookie season and hasn’t really been the same since after dealing with multiple ankle injuries in his second year.
That basically brought an end to rookie minicamp as the Broncos had known it. Then-coach Gary Kubiak dialed back the on-field work for last year’s session. New coach Vance Joseph, a former Kubiak assistant in Houston, throttled it back further for this year’s event.
The Broncos held brief on-field sessions for the two days of the rookie gathering — which they don’t call rookie minicamp.
Instead, it’s “rookie orientation,” as the Broncos, like a slew of other teams, opt to emphasize teaching and training to prepare the rookies for life in the NFL beyond what they experience on the playing field.
“We brought those guys in, not to do a full-fledged practice, but to do more of an orientation,” Joseph explained. “In my opinion, the practices aren’t worth it when you have guys on the field who haven’t trained in a football place or hadn’t met with our coaches at all. In my opinion, having an orientation and having media training, having note taking and security training, NFL policy training — that’s really important for those guys.
“Before being a great player, those things have to be in place. It’s a good weekend. It’s split in half. It’s a day and a half of instruction as far as being an NFL player and a day and a half of practice.”
–Every start that Ron Leary made with the Cowboys was at left guard, and that is where he will line up for the Broncos right away.
Although third-year veteran Max Garcia started all 16 games at left guard last year, he said he volunteered to move to right guard, allowing Leary to stay in the position in which he was most comfortable.
Garcia is familiar with right guard. During his rookie season, he worked there in relief of then-starter Louis Vasquez. Garcia played roughly half of the Broncos’ regular-season snaps in 2015, splitting his work in place of Vasquez and left guard Evan Mathis as both veterans struggled with injuries.
“I really don’t have a preference,” Garcia said. “I feel like I did better on the right side my rookie year and then last year, I played all left. Obviously I feel a lot more comfortable playing that left just after last season. Nothing is set in stone.”
It’s not, but with a competition looming at left tackle among first-round pick Garett Bolles, 2015 season-opening starter Ty Sambrailo and returning veteran Donald Stephenson, who played right tackle last year, the Broncos need as many certainties as they can find on the offensive line.
–The Broncos hope to have fifth-round tight end Jake Butt and seventh-round quarterback Chad Kelly available at some point during training camp.
Butt, who tore an ACL during Michigan’s Orange Bowl game against Florida State last December, slipped from a potential second-day pick to the third day because of the injury.
During Saturday’s practice, he worked on his own as part of his rehabilitation from the injury.
Kelly, who sustained a wrist injury while preparing for his Pro Day workout, is not expected to be able to throw until August. He was not at Saturday’s rookie-orientation practice because he was taking part in graduation ceremonies at Mississippi.
After a solid on-field career for the Rebels, Kelly fell in the draft because of injury concerns and character issues stemming from multiple off-field incidents during his college career. But Broncos coach Vance Joseph liked what he saw on Kelly from the film and from meeting him in person this week before Kelly returned to Oxford, Mississippi.
“He’s got a glow about him, and that’s impressive,” Joseph said.