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Old 09-19-2004, 01:07 AM  
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Teicher: Chiefs hopes, as always, rest on Priest Holmes


Chiefs' hopes for season rest, as always, on the granite shoulders of Priest Holmes

By ADAM TEICHER The Kansas City Star

It was evident from the first drive of the first game, when the Chiefs gave him the ball five times and he scored their season-opening touchdown. It became obvious as the passing game struggled, and he remained their only bright spot on offense.

Priest Holmes is destined to be a one-man band for the Chiefs yet again.

One game into the season and the Chiefs are as dependent on Holmes as ever. He's been everything to the Chiefs since joining them in 2001, the year he stunned the NFL by winning the league rushing title.

Holmes has led the Chiefs in rushing and touchdowns the past three seasons, pass receptions and scoring the last two.

There is no end in sight. If the Chiefs' passing game flounders today against Carolina and down the road like it did in Denver last week, Holmes' burden will only continue to grow.

How much pounding can Holmes — one of the smallest players on the field at 5-feet-9 and 210 pounds — take on a weekly basis? He does not deny the wear and tear his body absorbs every Sunday. It's clear to anyone who sees Holmes the day after a game. He makes his way so gingerly to his locker that observers wonder whether he's going to finish the trip.

But by Sunday, he's always ready to go. And he's not about to gripe, not after sitting on the bench behind Ricky Williams at the University of Texas and Jamal Lewis in Baltimore.

“I'm not really one to complain about carries,” Holmes says. “There was a time when I wasn't getting carries. Anybody would like to be in this position. Once you get into that seat, you try to ride it as long as you can.

“The only thing I've said I want less of is receptions. I'm old school. I feel that's the responsibility of the wide receiver. That's why you pay him. He's the one that should be having 1,000 or 1,200 yards and having the 80 to 90 catches. I don't believe a back should have to do those kinds of things. But the game has changed. You see backs like LaDainian (Tomlinson) with 100 catches. I've had three seasons in a row with more than 60 catches.”

The Chiefs gave the ball to Holmes 28 times in Denver. He carried 26 times for 151 yards and three touchdowns and caught two passes for negative-two yards.

He would have been busier in the passing game had the Broncos not disrupted a couple of screen passes that would have gone his way.

“He's going to get his 25, 30 touches a game,” offensive coordinator Al Saunders says. “That's what your starting halfback should generally get in this offense. That should equate to somewhere between 150 and 200 yards of offense. That's what we need from that position.”

It's rare that a team would expect so much from one player, but Holmes last year accounted for a staggering 48 percent of their offensive touchdowns and 36 percent of their yards.

The season before, he scored 45 percent of their offensive touchdowns and gained 38 percent of their yards — even though he missed the last two games because of his hip injury.

Holmes is one of only six players since 1970 to lead a team in rushing, touchdowns and receptions in two or more consecutive seasons. Clearly, that's not the way for a team to win a championship. None of the other five players won a Super Bowl ring during their heroic seasons, either.

Last year's champion Patriots had no one player account for more than 15 percent of their touchdowns or 21 percent of their yards.

Then there's the toll that kind of work load takes on a back. It's considerable, but it doesn't have to break him. Four of the other five players to carry Holmes' burden all were productive players even after their respective teams were able to provide them with some help. The fifth is Tomlinson, a one-man show of his own again this season in San Diego.

Holmes' durability is becoming legendary. After a serious hip injury in 2002, he bounced back as strong as ever last season and broke the NFL single-season touchdown record with 27 trips across the goal line.

Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil thinks he looks even better this year.

“He's back to how he was for the first two years here,” Vermeil says. “He's something special. I don't know if people recognize how special he is in this league. I really don't.

“He wasn't quite the same (last year). He didn't have that explosive quickness. He'd play on Sunday and come back on Wednesday and he could hardly work. He was sore. His whole body was sore because he didn't have that off-season preparation to get ready to play.”

Vermeil isn't the only one to notice that Holmes appears to be quicker to the hole and making his cuts this season.

“He's a lot healthier than he was a year ago,” quarterback Trent Green says. “He's able to spend the time in the off-season doing football things instead of just rehabbing. The other thing is that the doctors and trainers and coaches have been just incredible in terms of monitoring his (snaps). He didn't take a lot of (snaps) in training camp, he didn't take a lot of (snaps) during the preseason. During the week of practice, they limit the number of (snaps) he gets.

“So he's very fresh. It's very similar to what we did with Marshall (Faulk of St. Louis) in 1999 and 2000 and I think they continue to do that now. When you have somebody who can carry the load in terms of number of touches, not only in carries but catches out of the backfield, it only makes sense to monitor how many touches he gets in training camp, preseason and practice during the week.”

Holmes is amused by all this talk. New and improved? How crippled could he have been to score 27 times, rush for 1,420 yards and catch 74 passes?

“I'm not hitting the hole any different,” he says. “Mentally, my approach is different. I'm not running any more and being concerned about somebody coming off the back side and hurting me in the hip. Last year, I was wondering if somebody was going to pull me down by the shoulder like the last time. I got hit like that plenty last year and I was OK.”

Holmes handles the mental burden about as well as anyone. It's every player's dream to be the featured back, but it's also draining to be the target of every defensive coordinator on the schedule.

On game days, defenders always try to distract and upset him. Still, he refuses to trash talk or even acknowledge the other team's tactics.

“I've seen (opponents) do things to him to try to get in his head: talk bad about his mom, poke the eyes, anything to get his focus off what he's trying to do,” fullback Tony Richardson says. “All 11 guys are trying to take him out of the game. It doesn't bother him.

“You never see him say anything back. He barely talks to me and I'm blocking for the guy. He just doesn't worry about that stuff. He just walks back to the huddle and moves on.”

It's a game seemingly without end for Holmes and the Chiefs. In barely more than three seasons, he has nearly 1,000 carries. The Chiefs could give Holmes some rest by using Derrick Blaylock, who has become a reliable player, or last year's top draft pick, Larry Johnson.

But they won't, except on limited occasions. They can't help themselves. They're addicted to the guy.

“When you have running back by committee, you're less effective in what you do,” Saunders says. “That doesn't mean there won't be times where Priest needs a break or we won't use him in a more judicious fashion. That's always a possibility. But it's not about sharing the duty. It's about winning football games and we are a better team with Priest Holmes on the field than we are with him off the field.”
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