Charles Looks to Get Back on Track

He's got a new 'do and, for RB Jamaal Charles, the stylin' dreads are indicative of his new attitude. The junior's decision to forego track during spring football is further evidence of his unprecedented commitment to Longhorn football now that he's "the man" in the Texas backfield.

Texas begins its first full week of spring training and, for the first time in his collegiate career, Jamaal Charles is a buffed-up, one-sport student-athlete.

"I thought maybe I should just stop running track and get stronger," Charles said. "I'm way-bigger than I was when I got here. When I ran into somebody, I went back. Last year, I wasn't as big. When I bumped somebody, they bumped me back. I'm buffed-up so I feel real good. I'm real comfortable with my body, my new body."

Specially, Charles' "new body" stands at 6-1, 203-pounds. He was listed at 190 when he reported as a true freshman in 2005. Now, coaches and players are already talking about his renewed focus to helping the team ignite what was often a sluggish running game last season.

"Jamaal looks fast," QB Colt McCoy said. "It's going to help a lot with Jamaal being out here the whole spring. It's going to help our timing. We're going to get our running game down. We're going to find ways to get him the ball because he's a great player."

Charles has opted out of the indoor track season, but he may still compete in the 100 and 200 meters once spring football concludes with the March 31 Orange-White game. One year ago, the weekly grind as a two-sport standout depleted Charles' tank by the time voluntary summer workouts got underway.

"I'm happy with it and my people are happy with it," Charles said of his decision to focus solely on football. "When I was doing both (football and track), it was getting me real tired. I wanted to get more rest, and now my body can calm down. My body can get stronger."

And his dreads, no doubt, will get longer. The dreads are far from Ricky Williams' stature (not to mention Cedric Benson), but it is Charles' intent to follow in the footsteps of the renowned Longhorn lettermen -- not only in style but also stature now that Charles is expected to be the featured back.

"Coach (Brown) said I'll be the man next year," Charles noted. "He said for me to get used to touching the ball more."

The two-time second-team All-Big 12 pick ranks 20th on Texas' all-time rushing list with 1,709 yards and 18 touchdowns. Last season, Charles averaged 13 carries per game en route to a team-best 831 rushing yards. Though it was the second straight season in which Charles was Texas' top ground gainer, his yards-per-carry dipped from 7.4 to 5.3. He dashed for 878 yards on 119 totes in 2005 on the way to Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors but did not have a breakout game during his sophomore campaign.

Expectations were heightened after Charles set the Texas rushing record for a debut game (135 yards against UL-Lafayette), the school record for most yards in a player's first start (19 against Rice) and the most yards rushing by a Longhorn freshman against Oklahoma (116 yards). Yet, Charles posted only one 100 yard game (109 yards on eight carries at Rice) in 2006. He started just one game (Oklahoma) after coaches went with fifth-year senior Selvin Young. Coaches privately questioned Charles' ball security and durability. All told, Texas' NCAA-leading streak of 11 consecutive seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher came to an unexpected halt.

"Jamaal was disappointed in the year he had last year," Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis said. "I think he had set higher standards for himself. Certainly, we had. I think he felt that, focusing on football this spring and running track afterward, will bode well for us in the future."

It's more of a case of fine-tuning, rather than a complete overhaul, Davis believes.

"I think he's got to do a better job up inside in terms of running routes so he can be in exactly the right place so the quarterback knows where he's going to be," Davis said. "It's not anything other than polish-up work for Jamaal."

Specifically, Charles is focusing on mobility relative to his beefed-up frame.

"I'm trying to move around and make my cuts with this new weight that I've got," Charles said. "I don't feel like I've lost any speed."

In short, Charles believes he is back on track, in part, by not running it.

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