DENVER — The stutter step sold me. Sold the Mile High crowd, too.
It’s nothing Jamaal Charles hasn’t done 1,000 times before. The guy has 7,260 rushing yards to his name, the most in Chiefs history. Know who else has matched his per-carry average? No one. Bo Jackson averaged 5.40, Jim Brown 5.22. Charles holds the NFL record, 5.45... per carry.
But we didn’t know. Charles, signed as a free agent when the Chiefs had to do what they had to do and cut him, was the running back equivalent of 2012 Peyton Manning. (PFM also was cut, by the Colts, and performed as though he had something to prove.) Nobody knew. We haven’t seen him — not on the field, in pads, getting blasted by (or zipping past) overgrown men 100 pounds larger than his 5-foot-11, 199-pound frame. Until Saturday night.
Until the stutter step.
It was second-and-10 when Charles nabbed his first handoff as a Bronco, if only in a preseason game. He drifted/floated/coasted around the right end — stutter stepped — and gained the easiest 7 yards you’ll see. One quarter later, he did the same thing, this time around the left end. Another 12 yards. Another wave of whispers over the suddenly inspired audience of Broncos backers. You could almost hear the crowd raise its right eye: if Jamaal Charles is that Jamaal Charles...
Is he that Jamaal Charles? Too soon to say. Four carries for 27 yards — a Charles-ish average of 6.8 yards per touch — is promising. Two catches for 15 yards — helping out newly anointed starting quarterback Trevor Siemian — adds another layer. Should the Broncos keep Charles on the 53-man roster when cuts are made by 2 p.m., Sept. 2? After Saturday, I side with Mile High.
Yes. Keep Charles, and this should be the Broncos’ lineup of running backs: C.J. Anderson (who looked terrific on Saturday, by the way, the final time any of the starters will play before the Sept. 11 season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers), Devontae Booker (still injured), Charles, De’Angelo Henderson (the bowling-ball rookie) and Stevan Ridley. Five tailbacks and no fullback. Nothing against Andy Janovich, a fine, tough player. But the job assigned to fullbacks is to hit and be hit, and guys who hit and get hit are often injured. Unless Janovich fixes the short-yardage problem that’s plagued the Broncos for years — and they were stopped, again, on third-and-1 on Saturday — then I roll with an additional tailback. Especially when Anderson, Charles, Booker and Ridley all have underdone major knee surgeries in the past three years.
In other news, Kyle Sloter, the pride of Northern Colorado, spelled injured quarterback Paxton Lynch (shoulder) and promptly threw a pinpoint touchdown pass to Hunter Sharp. Sloter has been Lynch's equal, if not better.
And the Boom (Anderson) and Bust (Charles) potential is too intriguing to ignore.
The Broncos have kept Charles under wraps, lock and key for weeks. His practice reps were limited. His words, to local media, were limited.
And he will be limited. Midway through his preseason debut here — and Charles in orange must tickle in Kansas City — Charles entered the injury tent on the sideline. (They should have a separate injury tent for Denver’s running backs, complete with a points system, like Marriott.) The Broncos said Charles was evaluated for a concussion. He returned to the game.
Jamaal Charles should return in a Broncos uniform, against the Chargers, on Monday Night Football.