KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jamaal Charles is ready to take the training wheels off.
Those are his words, by the way.
The four-time Pro Bowl running back returned to the field against Pittsburgh a couple of weeks ago for the first time since tearing the ACL in his right knee in Week 5 last season.
But he only played 10 offensive snaps and had just two carries in what turned into a 43-14 rout .
After a week off, Charles was downright ebullient when he learned he would be a full participant in practice this week. And that means he should be a full participant in Sunday’s game in Oakland.
“I feel like I’m ready,” he said. “I told them to let the training wheels off me — I know how to ride now. Take them off and let me ride.”
The Chiefs (2-2) desperately need Charles to ride like the old days.
The popular narrative of the first four games of the season is that the Chiefs have been just fine with the tandem of Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West.
It has been espoused by everyone from coach Andy Reid to quarterback Alex Smith, and there was some substance to back up the claims after Ware played such an instrumental role in rallying Kansas City to a victory over San Diego in its opener.
But the reality is that Ware has not had the same kind of impact the past three games, and West has been banged up. Third-string running back Knile Davis was also hurt in the game against the Steelers.
As a result, the Chiefs are averaging just over 90 yards rushing per game, putting them 21st in the league — a perilous imbalance for a team that cannot rely on Smith to win games with his arm.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Brad Childress acknowledged Thursday that research during the bye week revealed a massive run-pass discrepancy. He said part of it had to do with the fact that Kansas City has often been playing from behind, forcing the Chiefs away from a ground-centric offensive approach.
But he also admitted the Chiefs are hoping to establish the run better.
That’s where Charles comes into play.
“All those guys have things that they do better than others,” Childress said. “We’ll kind of sprinkle him in there where we think he’s most effective.”
Reid declined to project how much of the load Charles would carry against the Raiders, only saying that “as long as there are no setbacks, he’ll probably do a little bit more.”
Charles said he’s not concerned about how his knee will hold up, nor is he worried about getting hit again. He just wants to get enough carries that he can feel as if he’s a part of the plan.
“I’ve been hit my whole life. I’m not worried about getting tackled,” he said. “I just need to get back in a game and get a rhythm and get the feeling back.”
Even though Charles is coming off his second surgically repaired ACL, he remains one of the most versatile and dynamic running backs in the NFL. His career average of 5.5 yards per carry tops Jim Brown for most in league history among qualifying running backs, and he is closing in on most of the franchise records he doesn’t already own despite missing most of two seasons to injury.
Their career rushing leader needs six receptions to pass Ed Podolak for second-most among Chiefs running backs, and he needs less than 1,300 yards to pass Tony Gonzalez for most yards from scrimmage.
Those are chases that Charles is eager to resume.
“It’s nonstop from here. It’s like a snowball, you know what I’m saying? Keep going down the hill,” he said. “Right now we have to stay on track, stay focused.”
Indeed, his return comes at a crucial juncture for the Chiefs. They face division rival Oakland on Sunday before a stretch of five straight games against teams with losing records.
It’s the perfect opportunity to make up ground on the AFC West.
“We have to come together as a team and don’t panic,” Charles said. “Twelve games seems long but it’s very short. It’s not like basketball with a hundred games. We have to just not panic and stay calm.”
Notes: LBs Tamba Hali (knees) and Sio Moore (flu) returned to practice Thursday. … Moore signed last week after getting cut by Indianapolis, and has gotten up to speed quickly enough that he could play against Oakland. “I’m just preparing for whatever role they’re going to put me in,” he said.