Chiefs excited about RB Charles but trying to curtail his fumbles

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Amid all the lopsided losses and fans' pot shots that have marred his first year as a head coach, the last thing Todd Haley wanted to talk about was University of Texas legend Earl Campbell providing Jamaal Charles with counseling on how to hold on to the football.

Why pick out another negative upon which to dwell? There are so many positive things to say about Charles' rapid ascent the past few weeks, so many signs that the Kansas City Chiefs have discovered a quality running back around whom to build their future.

"I don't want to go back with Jamaal because Jamaal has done nothing but improve since I've been here," Haley said. "He's a guy that I'm excited about."

Nevertheless, the Chiefs and assistant head coach Maurice Carthon are working overtime to rid their second-year running back once and for all of the fumble bug.

"Mo Carthon is an excellent fundamentals coach and is teaching him the proper way to do things," Haley said.

After spending his first year in the NFL stuck behind a former Pro Bowl selection, Charles jumped at his chance last month when Larry Johnson was released.

Ever since, Charles has been one of the brightest stories in the NFL. Keying a victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers to halt the Chiefs' 10-game home losing streak, Charles opened the game with a 97-yard kickoff return and later made a diving catch in traffic for a short touchdown pass.

Charles had a 44-yard touchdown run at Oakland on Nov. 15, shortly after Johnson was sent packing, erasing the stigma that Kansas City had carried as the only team without a rushing touchdown.

Then last week in San Diego, Charles had 14 rushes for 93 yards and one touchdown, and he caught three passes for another 54 yards. Plus, he averaged 30.5 yards on two kickoff returns.

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Charles already has overtaken Johnson for the Chiefs' lead in rushing yards, with 406 to Johnson's 377 -- and with 54 fewer carries.

But, oh, those blankety-blank fumbles.

The Chiefs were driving for what looked like a game-tying touchdown during the first half at San Diego when Charles, fighting for extra yardage, had the ball stripped away from him.

"It hurt. It's not like I got hit hard or wasn't trying to protect the ball," Charles quietly said, his gaze fixed on the carpeting of the Chiefs' locker room. "There was like five people around me and the dude just came around and stuck his arm in. He made a play."

The Chargers went on to a 43-14 rout. It was similar to the 27-16 loss the New York Giants handed the Chiefs after recovering Charles' fumble of the opening kickoff and driving in for a quick score. Being fumble-prone already sent Charles to the bench for one game this year.

One of Charles' worst days as a college player at Texas was a close loss to Oklahoma. He was running for the end zone on one play when he was stripped of the ball on the 5. On another, he let a pass slip through his hands for an interception.

But Charles was touched when the great Campbell sent word that he wanted to talk. The two met in the Texas weight room. The older man, the one whose statue stands watch over the stadium, did most of the talking.

"He inspired me," Charles said. "I was an up-and-coming running back, and he just wanted to tell me about fumbles. He said, "They're going to happen. You're not perfect. It's not like you're going to go through your career and you're never going to have a fumble. You've just got to suck it up and play hard the next play."'

So that's what Charles tries to do.

"Talking to Earl Campbell, I'm talking to a hero," he said.

Nevertheless, it's not a topic that Haley wants to discuss.

"It's experience and feel, and that's why I don't want to go back and talk about college and Jamaal because I go by what I see," he said. "Here's a kid we put through a little adversity early and sat him, and he's fought and pushed, and everybody is getting a little excited about him. I'm not going to let that take away from the improvement he's made and the up side I've seen."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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