“It’s been a really hard year for me,” Charles said. “I almost teared up after I got that first carry. It’s just been an emotional time. To come back to this stadium and to feel all the love and passion – I just feel that God gave me a second chance and I’m just so happy to step on the field again.”
Charles’ first carry came on the fifth play from scrimmage. It reads as an anonymous five-yard carry in the final stats, but it meant so much more to Charles and the 64,212 Chiefs fans that roared after that first rushing attempt.
New addition Peyton Hillis led a revitalized ground game that gashed the Cardinals defense for big gains early on. The fifth-year running back teamed with returning ballcarrier Jamaal Charles for 53 yards on seven combined carries.
The duo also made their mark in the passing game. Hillis caught a wide-open wheel route from quarterback Matt Cassel for the Chiefs’ first touchdown in 2012. And on the first play of the following drive, Charles showed no ill effects from last season’s ACL injury when he cut around Arizona defenders on an 11-yard screen pass.
Charles, the NFL’s second-leading rusher in 2010, had 12 yards on three carries and caught one pass for 11 yards. Two other key starters who also sat out last season with ACL surgery — safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki — also played with no apparent problem, lifting the spirits of coaches and fans alike.
Charles insisted he “wasn’t even paying attention” to the hit to the left knee. “It was good just to be on the field again and running the ball again in a real live game,” he said. “It was great to be out there with my teammates.”
The Chiefs did a great job improving the roster. Free-agent signee Eric Winston, who should start at right tackle, will be a major upgrade in 2012, while Stanford Routt replaces Brandon Carr at cornerback. Tight end Kevin Boss and running back Peyton Hillis were also very good pickups. Receiver Dwayne Bowe, meanwhile, hasn’t been at camp yet, but players told me they expect him to show by next Monday.
The best thing I saw: There were a lot of folks on hand to watch them practice, and the Chiefs players were plenty willing to spend some time with them. Last year, I remember guys being anxious to get off the field and up to the locker room. It’s another example of the new attitude within the organization.
Cassel, who missed most of the second half last season with a hand injury, looked sharp. He connected with a wide-open Hillis to finish a 12-play, 72-yard march for a 7-0 lead the first time the Chiefs had the ball and was 5 for 6 for 67 yards. He rifled a 29-yard completion to Dexter McCluster to set up Draughn’s TD run with 4:13 left in the first quarter.
Hillis, an offseason free agent signing, had 41 yards on four carries. He broke through a big hole on the right side of the line for a 28-yard run in the second TD drive, helping the first-teamers to touchdowns on the only two possessions they played.
Matt Cassel was sharp, going 5/6 for 67 yards and a nice blitz read touchdown facing pressure to Hillis. Peyton Hillis looked like the 2010 Hillis running for 41 yards on 4 carries to go along with the 11 yard touchdown reception. And oh how great it was to see Jamaal Charles on the field again. And he looked fine. He looked like the same Jamaal Charles to me. 3 carries for 12 yards and a screen for 11.
And how bout Dexter McCluster? 3 catches for 45 yards out of the slot. The offensive line was very impressive in both the run game and pass protection. They owned the line of scrimmage. As expected, this offensive line is going to be pretty damn good. What’s scary about the offense is that Dwayne Bowe of course didn’t play and Jon Baldwin, Steve Breaston, Tony Moeaki or Kevin Boss didn’t have a catch on either drive…