ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is still the smallest of samples, but hope comes in all sizes. And the Denver Broncos hope they can trust their eyes because they want to believe what they saw from running back Jamaal Charles on Saturday night is just a sliver of what’s to come.
Charles carried the ball just four times in the Broncos’ 20-17 victory over the Green Bay Packers to go with two receptions for 15 yards. And that collection of work will be his only game appearance of the preseason
“I thought Jamaal was impressive," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph. “I mean he hadn’t played football in almost a year-and-a-half. To take the contact to find open space the way he did, caught the ball well and his protections were good. I was impressed with Jamaal and I was hoping he looked like that ... I was pleased.’’
Charles has played in just eight games in the last two seasons combined because of multiple knee surgeries. His last 100-yard rushing game was against the Broncos -- Sept. 17, 2015 -- when he was in the eighth of his nine seasons with the Chiefs.
The Broncos signed him because there are times when president of football operatons/general manager John Elway looks at a player he believes has a resume that outweighs an injury history. He has said “sometimes you want those guys with chips on their shoulders, and if your doctors and trainers think he can come back, you do it."
Peyton Manning, of course, was one of those players. DeMarcus Ware was one of those players. But slightly out of the limelight, safety Jim Leonhard was once one of those players.
And the Broncos believe Charles just might be one of those players. They signed him to a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $3.75 million -- which, in the NFL world, will be a steal if the Broncos could get, deep into the season, what they’ve seen from Charles to this point.
“It felt exciting to me, my first job (Saturday) and I felt like a Bronco," Charles said. “It feels good to be a Bronco and seeing everybody running out the Mile High tunnel and everything."
The Broncos have plenty of difficult decisions on the roster, and running back may be the most crowded spot. Anderson has worked as the starter. Devontae Booker will miss the preseason with a fractured bone in his wrist, but Joseph has said he will be on the 53-man roster after the cuts later this week. Rookie De'Angelo Henderson has impressed and fullback Andy Janobvich is a special-teams staple with a growing role in the offense.
Often four running backs, including a fullback, would be what the Broncos would consider keeping -- they kept four, including Janovich, when they cut to 53 players last season. But Booker’s injury influences things given he may not be ready to play until just after the start of the regular season.
And Charles could influence some things because he is a player that has averaged over five yards a carry in all but one of his nine previous seasons. He’s just the kind of player the Broncos want in the offense since they haven’t had a running back carry the ball at least 100 times and average at least five yards a carry since 2009.
“What Jamaal brings, it’s a speed element that we haven’t had in a long time," Joseph said. “Third downs, catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s an explosive receiver, I mean he’s a guy that can make a big play at any moment. ... It’s going to be a four- to five-man backfield that’s going to be special in my opinion."
Charles also offered a reminder in the first quarter Saturday night that he’s willing and capable in pass protection -- a must for any back who will play on third down -- as he saved quarterback Trevor Siemian from a big hit.
“That’s the benefit in having a veteran running back. He kind of understands protections and can help you out quite a bit back there," Siemian said. “We’re in a good spot with all those guys. All of our guys are playing really well but obviously really cool to see Jamaal out there."
Charles won’t play in Thursday night’s preseason finale and the Broncos will formally cut their roster from 90 players to 53 by Saturday afternoon. He feels like he’s ready to be exactly what the Broncos hope he can be.
“If they want me here, then I’ll be here," Charles said. “At the end of the day, I feel like everything is meant to be. I feel like if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and if it’s not, it’s not.”