Tony Moeaki ran down the line and pushed into the defender, blocking on a run play. Jamaal Charles took handoffs and sauntered upfield. Eric Berry made cuts out toward the ballcarriers.
The knees looked just fine.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ star-powered trio of players recovering from ACL surgeries were full participants Friday in the first practices of training camp on the campus of Missouri Western. Forever connected because of their 2011 knee injuries, Moeaki, Berry and Charles remain linked in their recovery and quest to improve Kansas City in 2012.
“That was big, you know what I’m saying?” Berry said. “Going through something like that and not having to go through it by yourself, having Jamaal and Tony down there throughout the whole process, I think that was a big deal.
“We pushed each other through a lot of times.”
All three passed a morning running test to receive clearance to practice.
The hour-long morning walkthrough and two-hour afternoon practice marked the first full participation for each since tearing a knee ligament last year. The injuries all occurred during a disastrous three-week period spanning the final preseason game at Green Bay and the first two weeks of the regular season.
Minus three impact players, the Chiefs floundered to a 7-9 record, a campaign that cost coach Todd Haley his job late in the year.
The return of Moeaki, Berry and Charles have led to increased expectations for 2012 — coach Romeo Crennel’s first full year in charge of the Chiefs. Their joint return to practice fuels the optimism.
“They look pretty good,” Crennel said. “They’re running around, and they’ve got some bounce in the step. I feel pretty good about them.”
Moeaki went down in the preseason finale and didn’t take a snap in the regular season. Berry went down on the third play of the opener against Buffalo. Charles went down awkwardly while being shoved out of bounds in a blowout loss to Detroit a week later.
That means all three have had nearly a year of recovery to reach this point.
The three spent time rehabbing the injuries together in both Pensacola, Fla., and Kansas City during the offseason. The full-speed afternoon drills provided the first big test for the healing joints, and only time will show any lingering affects.
That starts with the three weeks of training camp in St. Joseph.
“Every day is a practice — gotta work hard and let the hard work pay off on Sundays,” said Charles, who rotated in behind offseason acquisition Peyton Hillis during the first 11-on-11 offense vs. defense drills Friday. “I feel better; I feel good; I feel like I’ve got my mojo back; I feel happy; I feel comfortable out there, and I’m ready to go.”
Crennel expects to keep the trio’s workload as close to full as possible.
The coach might slightly alter repetitions early on and increase them as camp proceeds. Crennel went on to say that special precautions could be taken if swelling or other complications crop up.
Moeaki, Berry and Charles have no other limitations.
“What’s going to happen is that joint,” Crennel said, “hasn’t been stressed the way it’s going to be stressed in pads and out there on the football field and sudden cuts and things.”
That’s why on Friday, Moeaki, Berry and Charles looked at full speed.
The specter of last year’s lost season seems behind them. If anything, seeing the trio on the practice field felt normal — both for the players themselves and their teammates.
“It’s great to have Jamaal back out there; it’s great to have Tony back out there. Eric Berry’s running around,” Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel said. “To have all these guys who are key elements in both our offense and our defense, it was fun to see them out there, and I think they’ll make us a better football team.”