Kansas City, Mo. Twice-suspended offensive lineman John Welbourn will begin practicing with Kansas City on Wednesday after sitting out six games for violating the NFL drug policy.
Welbourn, who started nine games at right tackle last year for a Kansas City offense ranked No. 1 in the league, could bring immediate help to an inconsistent line that lost both starting tackles.
Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf announced his retirement just before training camp, about a month after Welbourn, the starter at right tackle, said he had retired.
But later the league said Welbourn had been found in violation of drug policy for the second straight year and would not be eligible to return until Oct. 23. Welbourn also missed the first four games of 2005.
After Welbourn applied for reinstatement, the first six games of this season counted as his missed time.
Coach Herm Edwards met with Welbourn, 30, on Monday and was impressed with his physical conditioning.
"He's in pretty good shape. Don't know what kind of football shape, but pretty good," Edwards said.
Welbourn has a two-week exemption in which he can practice for two weeks without counting against the 53-man roster. Then the Chiefs will have to make a decision on whether it wants to take back a player who has missed 10 games in two years due to suspension.
They almost certainly will, provided he's in proper physical condition. A third positive test for performance-enhancing drugs would subject him to a 10-game suspension and he could be banned for life at the discretion of the commissioner.
Without question, his absence has hurt the Chiefs (3-3), who have been trying to stabilize after the loss in the season opener of quarterback Trent Green and other injuries on the offensive line.
But how would Welbourn be received by his teammates? When he was suspended in September, most sounded supportive.
"John could help this team," defensive end Jared Allen said at the time. "He's proven in the NFL that he can get the job done. Anytime you can bring a guy back and add depth to your tackle position, I think definitely it would help.
"I'd like to have him back on this team. He's a neat guy."
Edwards said he did not think Welbourn would be ready for this week's game against Seattle. The following week the Chiefs are at St. Louis.
"We'll evaluate him this week and see where he's at," Edwards said.
Welbourn will be rejoining a team fresh off its most satisfying victory since Edwards became head coach this year. A week after losing 45-7 at Pittsburgh, the Chiefs got breakout games from running back Larry Johnson and tight end Tony Gonzalez and a breakthrough 30-27 victory over San Diego.
And topping their best day in what has been a rugged six-week stretch, they even caught a lucky break. Seattle, this week's opponent, lost quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to a knee injury on Sunday. The Seahawks apparently also will still be missing Pro Bowl running back Shaun Alexander.
Hasselbeck's backup, fourth-year pro Seneca Wallace, has never started an NFL game.
Edwards said he could not remember preparing for an opponent that would be without its Pro Bowl quarterback and Pro Bowl running back.
"No, and that kind of scares you as a coach," Edwards said. "You know how the team is going to react. If (your team) thinks in your mind, 'Well, they don't have this guy and they don't have that guy,' then you lose your focus."
Before last week's blowout loss at Pittsburgh, the Steelers lost defensive stalwart Joey Porter.
"And the next thing I turned around and it was 45-7," Edwards said. "Teams rally. Their team's going to come together and say, 'We've got a young quarterback in there for the first time as a starter.' Their defense is going to try to get turnovers and get a short field for the guy."