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Jamaal Charles' desire to be great includes blocking

8/13/2014

By Terez A. Paylor

By Terez A. Paylor

McClatchy-Tribune

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Early in the second quarter of the Chiefs' 17-16 win over the Houston Texans last October, Brian Cushing crashed through an open gap and plowed into Jamaal Charles, who was ready to pick up the blitz.

The matchup was not fair.

Cushing has four inches and 54 pounds on the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Charles and it showed, as the star linebacker bull-rushed the Chiefs' star running back to collapse the pocket and force an incompletion by Alex Smith.

But Charles, being the competitor he is, takes pride in his pass blocking. And a quarter later, when charged with taking on the blitzing Cushing once again, Charles was ready, as he evened the odds by executing a cut block on Cushing.

"I just don't like getting embarrassed when a linebacker tries to bull-rush me," Charles said. "If you bull-rush me, I'm going to come back the next play and cut your legs ... next time it'll slow him down."

While the result of the cut block was desirable -- Charles successfully took Cushing out of the play -- the collateral damage was not. Cushing was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament and broken fibula, and Charles later expressed remorse that Cushing got hurt, which certainly wasn't his intention. Cushing later tweeted at Charles, telling him that he knew he was just doing his job and that he had "nothing but respect" for his game.

Cushing is not alone. During a season in which Charles displayed all-around brilliance by racking up 1,980 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns, his willingness to block in pass protection also left a positive impression on the men who coach him.

"He does a great job of running the ball; he does a great job of catching it," running back coach Eric Bieniemy said. "But one (area where) he's underappreciated is his ability to pick up a blitz."

Charles, who said his goal in pass protection is to keep his man occupied for three seconds, displayed his eagerness to block on plenty of other occasions, with one of the most memorable being the time he de-cleated Philadelphia safety Earl Wolff when he tried to test Charles on a blitz off the edge.

"You have to have motivation to do it -- you just have to be hungry," Charles said. "You just have to feel like you have to go knock their head off before they knock yours off. That's my job. I love contact."

Still, Charles' coaches say he's humble enough to understand he has room for improvement.

"He works at it," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. "A lot of those guys don't work at it. He wants to do everything the best, and that's a part that you love about him as a football player."

According to Pro Football Focus, Charles' seven quarterback hurries allowed ties for ninth among the 15 running backs who played a minimum of 650 snaps, while his one quarterback hit allowed tied for fifth. He also gave up two sacks last season, which tied for 12th.

One of the sacks he allowed came when he was a tick late picking up a blitz by Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter. The other came when he was simply beaten with a very nice swim move by Cleveland linebacker D'Qwell Jackson.

To be fair, it's unclear how many times each back was asked to pass block, which obviously puts those who are asked to do that more often at a bit of a disadvantage. Regardless, Charles' coaches make it clear that he wants to be even better at it this season.

"He's working his tail off; that's the first thing I think of," said offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. "That's something he had to learn last year, and he's done a nice job. Give credit to Jamaal because he's taking pride in it."

Good thing, too, because in Reid's offense -- like most in an increasingly pass-happy league -- blocking isn't optional. And Charles has every intention keeping his coach happy.

"I try to teach the guys still in the locker room now that the coaches look for backs that on third down will help the quarterback throw the ball," Charles said. "If you can't block, you can't play. That's how it goes in our room."