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Archive for Sunday, September 9, 2007

Houston expects heavy dose of Larry Johnson in opener

September 9, 2007

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— With Larry Johnson missing most of camp because of a 25-day holdout, many expect the Kansas City Chiefs' star runner to be limited in the opener in Houston on Sunday.

The Texans are not among that group.

"Oh, no," coach Gary Kubiak said with a laugh when the question was posed. "I expect him to touch it just as many times as he normally does."

His return will certainly add power to an offense with career backup Damon Huard at the helm, and which scored just two touchdowns in a winless preseason. Johnson, who set an NFL single-season record with 416 carries last year, had just three carries in exhibition play.

Kansas City gave Brodie Croyle the chance to win the quarterback's job from Huard, but the second year player's inconsistency left Huard as the starter.

Coach Herm Edwards said they used the preseason to see a lot from their young players and he isn't worried about the lackluster performance.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "Concerned, I don't know if you're concerned, you're just disappointed."

Edwards has said Johnson will be "on a little bit of a leash" at first. Johnson, who worked out in Arizona during the contract dispute, said a benefit of missing camp is having fresh legs going into the regular season, and that he's ready to play.

"I want to try and stay in there as long as possible ... but I'm not going to rush myself back," he said. "We'll see how it goes during the game. There's going to be some times where I'm going to come out and be winded and there's going to be some times where I'm going to stay in for two or three drives. I've just got to push myself through it."

Either way, facing Johnson will be a test for a defense that hopes to be improved this season with the maturation of 2006 No. 1 pick Mario Williams and the addition of 2007 first-rounder tackle Amobi Okoye.

"My biggest goal is to just go out there and make plays," Williams said. "No matter what it is, even if I don't make a tackle, as long as I know I helped make that play. I've just got to go out there and let loose, that's all I'm worried about."

Williams had 47 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks while dealing with a painful foot problem in a disappointing rookie season.

Though many current Texans weren't around in 2005, they're all familiar with what Johnson did to the team in a 45-17 win in the last meeting between the teams.

In his breakout game after taking over for the injured Priest Holmes, Johnson set the franchise rushing record with a career-high 211 yards on 36 carries. Of course, Johnson has found memories of that first trip to Reliant Stadium.

"I had a lot of carries ... I had so much fun playing that I didn't want to come out," he said. "Numbers were just numbers, but I just was able to have fun and I love to play in that stadium. It was the first time I've been in a nice stadium like that, and it was an exciting game."

While the Texans worry about the known talent of Johnson, the Chiefs will face the unknown in new quarterback Matt Schaub, the former Atlanta backup in his first starting role. Schaub was impressive in the preseason, but still has to prove himself in a game that counts.

He said he isn't nervous about his first start, and if the Texans continue the progress they showed in preseason, they should be successful.

"I just want him to come out and play the way he's played in the preseason," Kubiak said. "He's been very composed and very smart with the ball. He's handled our guys very well."

Kubiak loves his presence on the field and believes he will help keep the other players from getting too worked up on Sunday.

"There'll be a different demeanor on Sunday," Kubiak said. "I think the other 10 around him on Sunday will be a lot more geared up. So he's going to have to calm them down, and he calms them down with the way he plays. We just want him to continue to be his steady self."

Also in his first year in Houston is running back Ahman Green, the four-time Pro Bowler who spent the last seven seasons in Green Bay.

Schaub has Pro Bowler Andre Johnson and preseason star Jacoby Jones as targets, but the pair must contend with the veteran cornerback duo of Ty Law and Patrick Surtain.

"They are playmakers," Kubiak said of the cornerbacks. "If you're wrong with the ball, they're going to make you pay. So it's a great challenge for Matt."

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