Berry, Charles and Moeaki shed the rust

Posted Jul 28, 2012

Chiefs trio enjoys long-awaited return to football

Name the type of awe-inspiring catch, and Tony Moeaki has hauled it in.

The acrobatic, one-handers in the back of the end zone. The post patterns over the middle despite tight bracket coverage. And the four-yard outs that turn into a twenty yard gains while would-be tacklers ride piggyback.

But Moeaki’s most gratifying catch could be the one he grabbed on Friday in St. Joseph:  a simple, 5-yard slant route. Not because it had a greater degree of difficulty than any of the ones he’s had before – it didn’t. But to come down with his first catch of training camp, Moeaki had to overcome a grueling year of knee rehab before he could outwork defenders in practice.

“It seems like a long time when you’re out for so long,” said Moeaki, who missed all of 2011 after tearing his ACL in the fourth and final preseason game last year. “Today was a day we were all looking forward to.”

Moeaki isn’t the only player the Chiefs got back on Friday. No longer confined to sideline stretches, running back Jamaal Charles turned the corner on a toss play and darted down the sidelines. Eric Berry roamed the secondary after reclaiming his old job at strong safety.  Moeaki nearly missed a touchdown heave from Matt Cassel, but left fans with more hope about the upcoming season.

It was a much-needed reprieve from the thoughts of what could’ve been. After all, the Chiefs ascended to the top of the AFC West in 2010 behind breakout seasons from Charles, Berry, and Moeaki.

That season, Berry became the first Chiefs rookie since Derrick Thomas to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl. In doing so, the Chiefs defense improved from the 29th best unit in the league the 11th in terms of points allowed. He led the team with four interceptions and was second only to All Pro linebacker Derrick Johnson in tackles.

Chiefs fans were looking forward to experiencing Berry’s second act – until the safety tore his ACL in the first quarter against Buffalo in the season opener.

Berry admits the rehabilitation process that followed was tedious and frustrating. So the former first rounder found strength in two other players that suffered the same ill-fated injury: Moeaki and Charles.

“There were a lot of days I didn’t feel like going in (to rehab),” said Berry. “But we just kind of leaned on each other and pushed each other through.

The three players forged ahead and recovered together in time for offseason workouts. But head coach Romeo Crennel kept the trio out of OTAs and minicamp for precautionary reasons.

The ACL-tear trio was restricted to exercises on an adjacent field at the Chiefs Training Facility. Charles used the conditioning hill behind those fields to stay in shape and test the straight-line durability of his knee.

Running the hill had an added bonus for Charles and his rehabbing teammates. Once they got to the top, every runner gained a perfect view of Arrowhead Stadium – and a perfect reminder of where they all wanted to end up when the 2012 season begins.

The significance of today – the first day of training camp – isn’t lost on Charles.  When the running back took the field in practice, he tested his lateral quickness instead of his straight line speed.  

His knee held up as Charles cut off a block on his first handoff, notifying the fifth-year ball carrier that he had made a full recovery.

“There were a couple plays (I felt better), and in warmups too,” said Charles. “I feel like I have my mojo back. I feel happy, I feel comfortable out there, and I’m ready to go. I’m blessed just to be a part of this game again.”

Charles, Moeaki, and Berry will receive another important blessing soon. Crennel said he plans on limiting their snaps in the preseason. But when the regular season begins, the head coach expects all three to be out there against the Atlanta Falcons.

And that means Moeaki can go back to making more game-breaking catches.

“I’m a little rusty – that’s something that we’ll work on as camp progresses,” Moeaki said. “But we’ll get it done.”

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