For those who regularly read my columns most know that I'm a Larry Johnson fan. I will defend the pick of a year ago despite the fact that linebacker Boss Bailey was still on the board when the Chiefs selected a back-up running back as an insurance policy for Priest Holmes.
Larry Johnson had plenty of talent and deserved to be one of the top runners selected in the 2003 draft. But when Holmes made a miraculous comeback after hip surgery, Johnson found little opportunity for playing time behind the future Hall of Fame back and Derrick Blaylock.
To the surprise of everyone in the organization, Blaylock matured and showed flashes that he could have an impact on the offense. In 2003, Blaylock showed a nose for making plays and was used in passing situations. Everyone knows he has great speed but he's not a cut-back runner and has a tendency to run past his blockers.
Johnson is a more polished runner than Blaylock. But that matters little to the Chiefs as they intend to start Blaylock on Sunday and Johnson will once again serve as a back-up.
That has not made Johnson a happy-camper and he let that be known on Wednesday afternoon especially after the comments made by Vermeil on Tuesday at his weekly press conference. Vermeil called out Johnson and referred to his young running back as ready to ‘take the diapers off.' That irritated Johnson and he made no bones about telling reporters his thoughts on the topic of Vermeil and playing time after practice on Wednesday.
"I don't need no motivation," Johnson said. "If I need motivation, I'll talk to my father. I don't need another grown man telling me I need to take the diapers off. That's not how I've been raised, and I don't need no motivation from anybody. I'm self-motivated because my father taught me to be that way."
Johnson made no bones about it last year when he questioned why the team drafted him when they assured him that he would play regardless of the availability of Holmes.
""Yes, it's a little frustrating when they bring you here and they can't tell you whether you're going to play or you're not going to play," Johnson said. "That's just how I feel. By no means I'm going to stop going hard here and going hard every day in practice. It's just something that's frustrating right now and would be to anybody who's in my position."
Dick Vermeil understands the frustration and meant no malice toward Johnson. In fact for the record, it was Vermeil who stood by the side of Johnson last year when he had an off the field incident. Vermeil despite what has been reported by some in the local media has spent significant time with Johnson and he respects his talents.
"The kid wants to play football badly. He loves to play," Vermeil said. "But in this league they just don't automatically retire Priest Holmes. "He has all the talent in the world," Vermeil said of Johnson, "and sooner or later, he'll have his opportunity to take advantage of it."
That could be that weekend against the Texans. And if Johnson wants to make a statement, he'll worry more about studying the Houston defense which has a solid front seven. Though Blaylock will likely start on Sunday, Johnson has an opportunity to step up and make some plays.
If not, then the final comments he made to reporters today about how this changes things between himself and his coach.
""It affects a lot of things. But that's between to him and me to figure that out. There's a lot of things going on that I want to address but I want to wait to the right time for me to do that," said Johnson.
The Chiefs hope that Johnson can overcome his difficulties adjusting to the NFL and the complex Kansas City offense. If he does, then he could be the focal point of the Chiefs offense and one of the prime reasons.
If not, then I'm afraid Larry Johnson will join the company of running backs who never could make the jump from stardom at Penn State to being productive players in the NFL.