KANSAS CITY, Mo. — August is gift-wrapped for the Knile Davises of the world. Fresh legs, young bodies, green and mean and untested, learning their trade in a game that doesn’t count.
The NFL is an osmosis league, more or less. Yeah, there’s film study and meetings up the wazoo, fine, yada yada yada, but there’s no substitute for time on the field, no substitute for the time spent at game speed, no substitute for getting your clock cleaned by the best headhunters on the planet. The NFL preseason is about education. Education, assimilation and liquidation, not necessarily in that order.
Jamaal Charles is the best offensive player in a 300-mile radius. Knile Davis is a rookie. Ergo, until your fantasy league goes live, it’s Knile left, Knile right, Knile in a box, Knile with a fox, Knile in a house, Knile with a mouse. You use every possible opportunity to see what you’ve got.
With Charles, the Kansas City Chiefs already know what they’ve got. They’ve got a superstar with a wonky right foot. And a backfield that won’t look the same without him.
The short answer is “minimally,” if the question of the moment is how much Charles — on the mend from a sprained right foot — should play over the next two preseason tilts, including Saturday’s little dance at Pittsburgh.
We’d also accept “just long enough to get the timing down with Alex Smith and the rest of the gang, but just quick enough to keep from receiving sustained damage.” That works.
Any more than that is hubris. Or insanity. Or some wacky combination of the two.
“I told (trainer) Rick (Burkholder) I can’t just be waiting and waiting and waiting,” Charles said earlier this week after returning to practice. “I want to get in the reps with the (first team) and continue to see how I feel, if it’s getting better or worse.
“I think I could’ve played (last Friday against San Francisco), but it was just smart for me not to play in it, to prepare myself and get ready for this week.”
Noble is good.
Smart is better.
Hey, it’s a violent sport, you say. Injuries are inevitable, right? Part of the package, champ.
True, but ask yourself this question: Say your car’s making noises like an ostrich in heat. The muffler’s dragging. The axle’s bent a little funny. You could take her on a roadie to Columbia, in a pinch. But would you risk it, given a choice, or get the patchwork done first?
“Oh, yeah, it was definitely scary because I’m normally running,” Charles continued. “That’s how I get all my yards, running. If it was (an) upper-body (injury), it probably wouldn’t have bothered me, but (it does), because it’s my leg, and that’s my skill level.”
His bread. His butter. His paycheck. Your dreams.
“Playing in the NFL, you can get weird injuries,” Charles said. “This one is the weirdest injury I’ve ever had.”
He described it as starting in his foot, traveling all the way up the side of his foot and then taking root in the middle of his leg. Fun, right?
As a general rule, these aren’t the kind of things you try to push, again, given a choice.
And with Davis, you have one, ready and eager and waiting.
If you’re worried about Charles getting synced up with the first-teamers, don’t be. He spent most of May and June and then training camp taking swing passes from Smith, slants from Smith, and lining up all over the stinking field.
He knows, for the most part, where to be. And when. At least, you’d hope.
The running narrative across NFL camps this preseason is actually more of a limping one: Bodies are dropping like flies — knee injuries, foot sprains, etc. — at an alarming rate. Consider the Pittsburgh-Washington game just this past Monday night. The Steelers lost running back/bell cow Le’Veon Bell to a right foot sprain, Will Johnson to a rib problem, and Baron Batch to a stinger.
Meanwhile, Washington’s non-RGIII contingency plan at quarterback, Kirk Cousins, left the contest with a mid-foot sprain.
“I mean, it’s football,” Charles had said. “Things happen and you don’t know when it’s going to happen. You just have to be prepared and take care of your body.”
You have to take care of your assets, too. Some Augusts, fate can be poked, prodded and even tempted. This isn’t one of them.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.