ST. JOSEPH, Missouri — Jamaal Charles had holes in his shoes on the first day of training camp.
The Chiefs running back was trying out a new pair, and they apparently were a bit tight in the toes. So Charles made incisions on each shoe that allowed his big toe to poke though.
Entering his eighth year in the league, they might be the only holes in his game.
Charles is coming off his third consecutive 1,000-yard season, despite battling nagging injuries all year. He also had at least 35 receptions for the third straight year, even though he was the constant focus of opposing defenses on a team with few offensive weapons.
"It's a compliment," Charles said of the attention. "As long as I play in this league, and play on a high level, I always feel like a team is going to have to stop me. I feel like sometimes I'm the LeBron (James) of football, especially at my position, because I can do so much."
Provided Charles is healthy, of course.
He missed most of the 2011 season after tearing his ACL, then dealt with one injury after another last season, even if he never let on to them.
It began during the offseason program when he first picked up some bumps and bruises. It continued in training camp, when he bruised a foot while carrying a box out of Scanlon Hall when the team was wrapping up workouts at Missouri Western. And then when the season began, it seemed like just about every week there was a new ailment, some more serious than others.
They never caused him to miss a game, but they certainly curtailed his production. He carried just seven times for 19 yards in the season opener against Tennessee, then carried twice for 4 yards the following week against Denver, when he had to leave with an ankle injury.
"Last OTAs, I hurt my heel. I wasn't showing anybody that I was hurt. Then I hurt myself before the preseason game. Then I got hurt in the second game. It was a struggle up and down," he said, "right from the beginning of the season."
It certainly wasn't the way Charles, a two-time All-Pro, intended to celebrate his two-year contract extension that will earn him an additional $18.1 million through the 2017 season.
The Chiefs understand how important Charles is to a successful season. Nobody else on the roster can change a game as quickly. So to ensure he's on the field late in the year, when Kansas City hopes to be in the playoff hunt, the teams' brain trust spent much of the offseason dreaming up ways to keep him healthy, not only in training camp but beyond.
"You want to make sure he is healthy late in the season," offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said, "so if that means giving a guy like Knile Davis some reps — whatever you have to do, number one, to keep him healthy for 16 games, and you do that each week."
Pederson said one of the biggest challenges is noticing when Charles is operating at less than 100 percent. The former Texas standout hates to take time off, even from practice.
"We have to be smart and work with our training staff and our medical staff to just stay in tune," he said. "Communication is obviously the utmost importance when it comes to those kinds of situations. We have to be smart and give him that proper rest, you know? And he has to communicate with us and tell us when he may be a little banged-up or maybe can't go here or there."
For now, Charles feels the best he has in a year, maybe even longer.
As for those new shoes? Well, the star running back doesn't seem to be taking any chances with so much as a blister. Two days later, he was in a better-fitting pair.
NOTES: The Chiefs waived DE Jerel Worthy and signed former Missouri WR L'Damian Washington. ... Practice was moved indoors Tuesday because of lightning in the area. ... WR Jeremy Maclin and CB Phillip Gaines briefly left practice with minor injuries. Both returned. ... First-round pick Marcus Peters is shining at CB, picking off three passes in practice. He's competing for a starting job with Sean Smith suspended the first three weeks.