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SPOTLIGHT
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Charles expects to shine

Published on -7/31/2013, 9:52 AM

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ST. JOSEPH, Mo. (AP) -- The Kansas City Chiefs will call some running plays eventually, even if it doesn't happen until the last week of training camp. Jamaal Charles has been assured of it.

That doesn't mean the Pro Bowl running back hasn't been busy the first week of practice.

After running for more than 1,500 yards last season in his return from a devastating knee injury, Charles now is getting a chance to showcase his versatility. He's been catching plenty of balls out of the backfield while also lining up at wide receiver for new coach Andy Reid.

"I'm not even worrying about running right now," Charles said after Tuesday's practice. "We're focused on getting the chemistry down with the quarterback."

That may be more important for Charles than ever before.

He's always had good hands, but he's never been called on to catch a lot of passes. Charles's season high was 45 a few years ago, and most of those were dump-offs and passes into the flat after he had lined up behind Matt Cassel.

Now, Charles is running plays that are designed for him to catch passes from new QB Alex Smith, which means a whole lot more studying. He no longer has to learn only the blocking schemes and when to pick up blitzes -- like he would if he lined up exclusively in the backfield -- but he also must read pass coverages and find open spaces down the field.

"Yeah, it's the most plays I've had to learn my whole life in football. It's a lot of studying, a lot of focus, a lot of hearing what the quarterbacks are saying," Charles said. "I have to learn coverage, man, cover 2, and all that stuff learning to play wide receiver."

Reid clearly thinks that Charles can handle the load.

The longtime Eagles coach helped pioneer the use of the running back in the passing game, first with Brian Westbrook and later with LeSean McCoy. In fact, Westbrook went five consecutive seasons with at least 50 grabs, and in 2007 caught 90 passes for 771 yards and five touchdowns.

That year, Westbrook led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and was first-team All-Pro.

"Jamaal is a big part of it," Reid said. "He's capable of doing the same things Westbrook did (and) McCoy did, as far as the passing game. He's a legitimate threat with his speed, his route-running ability and his hands. He catches the ball very easily."

Charles certainly has had his hands full on the practice fields of Missouri Western State University. He's become a favorite target for Smith, in part because the offensive line has been struggling to hold off the pass rush, resulting in a lot of short throws Charles' way.

"The thing that jumped out to me the most is his ability in the pass game," Smith said. "He's a really versatile player. He's a match-up mismatch with the football in his hands, all over the field. I don't think there's really any situation in football you couldn't have him in."

Smith got a glimpse of something similar in 2010, when he was with the 49ers. Westbrook had joined the team that season for what turned out to be the final year of his career.

"Jamaal helps us expand our playbook because he can do so much," Smith said, "and he can really become a weapon for us in all phases, not just running the football."

Running the football is still what Charles does best, though. Nobody disputes that.

His ability to slash through the smallest of creases and then use his world-class speed to run past defenders has made him one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL, someone who twice ran for more than 200 yards in a game last season.

So even though the Chiefs have been calling almost exclusively passing plays during training camp, Charles is confident they'll still call plenty of running plays for him this season.

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