Kansas City, Mo. — Larry Johnson has been asking all year for more playing time at running back. The Kansas City Chiefs might have no choice but to accommodate their former No. 1 pick.
Derrick Blaylock, who has passed Johnson to become Priest Holmes' top backup, is doubtful for Sunday's game at Tampa Bay because of a deep thigh bruise. That could mean a bigger role for Johnson, who was drafted out of Penn State in 2003 when the Chiefs weren't sure Holmes could return from offseason hip surgery.
Johnson touched the ball for the first time this season Sunday in Kansas City's 45-35 victory over Indianapolis. But his lone carry, for 19 yards, came on the last play of the first half with the Colts playing deep to avoid a long pass.
Johnson could have played more, coach Dick Vermeil said, but the Chiefs needed Holmes on the field to help answer Indianapolis' second-half scoring surge.
"When Derrick went down with a thigh bruise, I had talked to Larry and said, 'Be ready to go,'" Vermeil said. "It didn't work, but he will be ready to go this Sunday."
Johnson, who led the nation in rushing as a senior at Penn State with 2,087 yards in 13 games, only has 20 carries as a pro. He has been inactive for several games this year and has made no effort to conceal his unhappiness.
He and Vermeil clashed earlier this year when Vermeil said Johnson should "take off the diapers" and go to work. Then last month when he was not traded by the deadline, Johnson publicly lashed out.
But the Chiefs said they did not trade their disgruntled backup because they still believed in his potential.
Despite his public discontent with his role, Johnson remains popular with his teammates. The day after his latest flare-up, fullback and team leader Tony Richardson roped off Johnson's locker with yellow caution tape.
"Larry Johnson is a very likable kid. I like him," Vermeil said. "Just because I get mad at him ... I get mad at my wife, but I still love her.
"Our players, the kind of team we have, the chemistry we have, they want the other guy to succeed," he added. "Why? They know we're going to need everybody one time or another."
Blaylock, who scored four of the Chiefs' NFL-record eight rushing touchdowns against Atlanta on Oct. 24, frequently is used in third-down situations -- and now, in his fourth season in Kansas City, has learned the ins and outs of the Chiefs' offense.
"What you have to realize as a backup running back is you don't know when you're going in, and you don't know what down and distance it's going to be," Vermeil said. "It might be third and 1, or third and 15.
"That's what's so tough on a young player. That's why Derrick Blaylock is so valuable, because he's in tune to every one of those kind of environment situations you throw him into."