|12-07-2005, 06:11 AM|
King Shit of **** Mountain
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Dean: Vermeil predicted success for KC back Johnson
By Rick Dean
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Their conversations during their first two sometimes anxious years together were private, and Dick Vermeil will keep them that way.
Even so, the Chiefs coach says he tried to make two key points to overly eager running back Larry Johnson during his 2003 rookie season in Kansas City.
Point One: Vermeil believed Johnson would one day become a dominating runner in the NFL. Point Two: Such a day would not be coming soon, and Johnson would have to learn patience.
So watching Johnson rush for 100-plus yards in his last five games as the full-time replacement for the injured Priest Holmes doesn't come as a surprise, Vermeil insisted.
"Sitting behind closed doors, I predicted what Larry would be," he said Tuesday. "I also asked that he be patient, and he was very impatient. But part of that is his passion to play the game."
Finally given his chance to step from Holmes' shadow, Johnson has turned that passion and promise into production.
With 1,108 yards amassed over five games as a starter and seven others as a backup, Johnson ranks sixth among NFL runners. Where he might rank with a full 12 games is anybody's guess.
Since Holmes went down with complications of head and neck injuries in the Oct. 30 loss at San Diego, Johnson has become more than an understudy turned leading man. Right now he is the dependable cornerstone of the Chiefs offense, the running threat who can lure extra defenders up to the line in run support and open up the deep passing lanes.
His volume of work is such that Chiefs fans no longer are asking when Johnson will play, but how much pounding can he take?
In his last three games, Johnson has rushed 36, 31 and 30 times for 211, 119 and 140 yards, respectively. In his five games as a starter he's averaged 32 touches (rushes and reception), with his biggest game being the 36-carry, club-record 211-yard rushing night against Houston.
Given Johnson's passion, youth and relatively fresh legs, the Chiefs aren't worried just yet about wearing him down.
"He's bigger and stronger and can handle that load," Vermeil insisted.
"If you look through the league you'll find a lot of guys who've done that for a long time. Sometimes they only make it eight games before you get an injury like Priest did. It's high-risk position. But there were a lot of guys who carried that load for a long time -- the Gale Sayers and Marshall Faulk guys.
"This guy, I think, can be in that category. I think he can be a dominating player."
The Chiefs have gotten so used to counting on Johnson that they were caught unaware and embarrassed when they didn't notice he was out of the game last week.
It happened with the Chiefs clinging to a 31-27 lead over Denver with 8:52 remaining. On the next seven plays, Johnson carried the ball the ball six times for 27 yards as the Chiefs moved from their own 10 to near midfield as Kansas City melted the clock to the four-minute mark.
But after a seven-yard run out of bounds along the Chiefs sideline, Johnson did something unexpected. Dinged and tired, he signalled to backup Dee Brown to take the field.
Unknown, it seems, to the Chiefs offense braintrust.
Facing a crucial third-and-1 play, offensive coordinator Al Saunders called his best Larry Johnson short-yardage play, a run between Pro Bowl linemen Willie Roaf and Brian Waters. Upon finally seeing that Johnson wasn't in, Vermeil admits he should have called a timeout. Instead, they ran the play called, and Brown was stuffed for a 2-yard loss, giving the ball back to Denver with 3:42 remaining.
"Maybe it wouldn't have mattered anyway," Vermeil said. "Denver ran a great blitz and blew the play up. Hercules wouldn't have made it."
|12-07-2005, 06:23 AM||#3|
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