Archive for Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Great ones follow Holmes

Larry Johnson latest to observe trend

December 7, 2005

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— Want a great running back?

Just put Priest Holmes on your roster and sit back and wait. Great ones follow Holmes everywhere he goes.

He was an established collegiate star at Texas when a future Heisman Trophy winner named Ricky Williams showed up and stole the spotlight.

A few years later at Baltimore, after Holmes had put together a 1,000-yard season and been declared a top-flight NFL back, the Ravens drafted Jamal Lewis. Quickly beating Holmes out of his job, Lewis zoomed to stardom and led the league one season with a whopping 2,066 yards.

So Holmes again went looking for a home. He found one in Kansas City and wound up scoring an NFL-record 27 touchdowns in 2003.

But something else also happened that year. The Chiefs drafted running back Larry Johnson in the first round.

Since Holmes went out for the year because of head and neck trauma, Johnson has rushed for more than 100 yards five straight weeks and helped propel Kansas City (8-4) into the playoff chase.

The past three games, starting with a team-record 211-yard effort at Houston, Johnson has amassed 470 yards. After spending the first half of the season sharing carries with Holmes, the hard-running, 230-pounder has rocketed to sixth among the league's top rushers with 1,108 yards. His per-carry average of five yards is exceeded only by one member of the top 20 rushers.

With a tough and angry running style that seems to reflect his personality, the muscular and heavily tattooed Penn State product has led the NFL since Nov. 1, with 709 yards.

"There's been some unbelievable (running backs) - Gale Sayers, Marshall Faulk. This guy is, I think, going to go into that category one day," coach Dick Vermeil said Tuesday.

A rare combination of power and speed, Johnson seems to have added the one ingredient he had been missing: cunning. Twice while running for 140 yards last week against a Denver defense that had been giving up fewer than 80 yards a game, he stopped, let his blockers regroup, then broke free.

On one of those runs, he went four yards for what turned out to be the winning touchdown.

"I think he could become a dominating-type player," Vermeil said, "because of the physicalness within his framework. And he has great stamina."

So what does Johnson say?

Well, it's hard to know.

The sometimes-moody running back has been refusing to talk with most of the media. He granted an interview to the Chiefs radio network after the Denver game and said his patience "kind of shocked me."

"That's not really my thing, my character," he said. "I felt I was out of character, bouncing out, and after a while I got comfortable with it. Of course, on that last touchdown, I had it, was being patient and keeping with it, really frightening myself. There was a time I would have turned inside and gotten tackled. But I had patience and came out there with the rest of the boys."

One reason for his hostility toward the media may be the way he has been treated in regard to several controversies, including Johnson being characterized as frequently at odds with Vermeil, who publicly chided him during his rookie season to "take off the diapers."

Johnson has indicated he'll bolt the Chiefs as soon as his contract expires after the 2007 season.

But Vermeil insists all is fine.

"I've been a fan of Larry Johnson's for a long time," Vermeil said.

For two years, Johnson sulked about having to play behind Holmes. Many wrote him off as just a hotheaded kid who didn't know what he was talking about. But now that he has gotten his chance to be the featured back, he has backed up everything he said - and then some.

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