KANSAS CITY — Since that sudden, shocking moment almost a year ago when healthy knees buckled in searing pain, Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki have slogged through every stage of a comeback but one.
First came "why me" anger, followed by grudging acceptance. Then there was surgery, inactivity and tedious rehab while the 2011 season unfolded without them. Charles, Berry and Moeaki finally suited up and returned to a football field when Kansas City opened camp.
Now, their surgically repaired knees will get the first severe test when the Chiefs host the Arizona Cardinals on Friday night in their first preseason game.
In early training camp, the Chiefs have been gentle with their "ACL trio." But coach Romeo Crennel said they'll see action against the Cardinals.
"I think it's important for them to get reps in the game to begin to find out where they are, how they feel and how those injuries are recovering for them," said Crennel. "We'll give them some time and see how it goes."
For the Chiefs to compete in the AFC West, their injured trio will almost have to return to the 2010 form that made Charles the NFL's second-leading rusher, Berry a Pro Bowl safety and Moeaki a very promising young tight end.
The ACL injuries put them all out for almost the entire season, and, it turned out, ruined KC's chances to defend its AFC West title.
The Chiefs know there's always a chance for re-injury.
"Let me ask you this — if I tackle Jamaal Charles, and he gets hurt, then you're going to blame me for tackling, OK," Crennel said. "I'm going to use my best judgment to get those guys in position to tackle and make plays and try to keep my guys as healthy as I can, so I can get them to the regular season and we're able to play at a good level. Everybody in the NFL has the same problem, trying to keep guys healthy and how to practice and get work done without exposing your guys to possible injury."
In addition, the Chiefs are not putting any pregame limits on any starter's participation.
"I told them to be ready to play however long I needed them," Crennel said. "I didn't know how long that might be, and I told them the only consideration would be that if there was someone who might have a little nagging injury or something like that, I may take that into consideration and not give them as much playing time. I want them to get ready to play. I don't want them going into the game thinking, 'OK, I'm going to come out after the first quarter or I'm going to only play a series.' Just be ready to play and we'll see how long it is."
For the Cardinals (0-1), the game will cap a nearly weeklong stay in the Kansas City area. After losing to New Orleans in their preseason opener, the Cardinals spent Tuesday working against the Chiefs at their training camp in St. Joseph, then worked out separately each day leading up to Friday night's game in Arrowhead Stadium.
"It was a great benefit to us not to have to go all the way back to Arizona," said coach Ken Whisenhunt. "We've got a two-hour-plus drive to our training camp, so to fly back to Phoenix, to drive two hours to camp to be there for a couple of days and then turn around and fly back here saves a lot of wear on our guys' bodies."
Key for the Cardinals will be the next chapter in the battle between quarterbacks Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Kolb was intercepted on his first pass against New Orleans in the Hall of Fame Game and then went out with bruised ribs. Skelton was expected to start Friday night but Kolb said he'll play.
Not going home between road games "is a little bit different," Kolb said.
"But you get thrown things like this during the season," he added. "There's a lot of things that happen to you (that) you have to be able to deal with during a game and also on the road. It's a good test for us."