RB Priest Holmes began a light running program in the last week that apparently did not go as well as anyone monitoring his recovery hoped to see.
"He didn't feel as good about it as I hoped he would," Coach Dick Vermeil said. "There's just a lack of progression in the rehab process. It's just not going fast enough, and that's disappointing."
For a guy who said he briefly considered retirement before the '04 season, Holmes -- still the NFL's leading non-kicking scorer (90 points after only 7 1/2 games) -- apparently has found his down time frustrating.
In his absence, Kansas City should at least gain some direction on what to do with their running back corps for 2005 and beyond.
"For awhile there he was almost in a semi-state of depression over not being able to play," Vermeil said. "It made him realize how much he missed the opportunity to be able to play."
But after consulting with two seperate doctors nobody was convinced that Holmes could or should return to the Chiefs this season. Quite frankly with the playoffs out of reach there is no need to risk further injury.
So that has left open a window of opportunity for two of Kansas City's young running back who are going to take the final four games as an audition for the 2005 season.
When second-year runner Larry Johnson -- playing extensively after backup starter Derrick Blaylock was knocked loopy late in the second quarter of last week's Oakland win -- ran for 118 yards and added 56 more on three receptions, the Chiefs suddenly had their third 100-yard rusher of the year.
That's great if you love depth or the wishbone offense. But should the Chiefs be willing -- even if they are able -- to retain all three runners next year?
Blaylock, finally getting a chance to run in his fourth season, will be a free agent in February. After running for 186 yards in his first full game as Holmes' replacement against New Orleans' sorry run defense, he might be in position to find better playing prospects, to say nothing of a better paycheck, somewhere else.
The Chiefs really like Blaylock -- an efficient former special teams contributor who keeps his mouth shut and quietly gets his job done -- but they'll have to decide how much they like him monetarily. Especially as he currently stands between the starter's job and Johnson, the first-round pick of 2003 who has been a vocal pain in the butt when complaining about his lack of playing time.
Asked this week if the Chiefs could afford to keep all three runners, coach Dick Vermeil replied: "We can do whatever we want unless somebody offers (Blaylock) so much money that you can't be competitive.
"I know Derrick wants to be here," Vermeil added. "But if someone wants to pay him like a starting running back I would say to him what I said to (free agent departee) John Tait: 'Good luck, thanks for all you've done, you deserve this opportunity.'"
Complicating the issue are questions about Holmes' status, both on a short and long-term basis.
For the first time this week, Vermeil talked as if Holmes might not be able to play again this year after injuring his right knee in the third quarter of a Nov. 7 loss in Tampa Bay.
"The original estimate (on Holmes' down time) was two to four weeks. We're at four weeks now and I don't think he's anywhere close to being ready to play," Vermeil said. "Will he be ready in two weeks? I don't know.
"I don't want Priest Holmes to feel pressure," Vermeil said. "The most important thing is to heal properly so he comes back 100 percent next year. If sitting out the rest of (the season) is the best thing to do, that's exactly what we'll do."
Remember, too that Holmes shocked Vermeil just last spring by walking into his office and revealing that he was considering retirement. Part of that came about because Holmes was concerned about his mother during his step-father's year-long tour of military duty in Iraq. But similar thoughts could drift into Holmes' mind again this offseason as he contemplates returning from yet another injury at the age of 32.
While he's down, the 4-8 Chiefs -- a team playing for nothing but pride and the chance to remember how to win again -- could use the time to answer some questions surrounding Johnson's ability to become either a reliable backup or a featured back.
Has he improved his pass protection skills -- the main reason Blaylock starts ahead of him -- enough that you can put Trent Green's health in his hands? (He's getting better, but he got beat for a sack against San Diego that left Green's ribs aching for a week.) Has he developed an ability to read blocks and let holes develop? (Again, there is improvement, but Johnson still has a tendency to run first and ask directions later.)
The research will be done incrementally, with the next experiment scheduled Monday night in Nashville. Blaylock is scheduled to start and split time with Johnson. If one shows a hot hand early, expect him to get most of the calls late. And, maybe a call this spring that will affect the course of his career.
This will be 45th meeting between Chiefs and Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, including two playoff games. Chiefs lead 26-18 (2-0 in playoffs). Titans won last meeting, 17-14 in Nashville in 2000, to break a four-game losing streak against KC. That was the first meeting between the two teams in Nashville.
Warpaint Illustrated Publisher Nick Athan contributed to this story.