I would have never guessed that Larry Johnson's 97-yard touchdown run in Saturday's pre-season game could spark such a controversy. In the blink of an eye (well, more like 9.4 seconds), half of the Kansas City turned in to Larry Johnson apologists with a number of those fans crying out for Johnson to supplant Priest Holmes as the starting tailback.
With all of the new love for Larry Johnson, there appears to be an increased contempt for Holmes. With that being said, I am struggling to understand what happened to the love for Priest and why so many fans perceive Holmes as an outdated liability? Never mind the fact that he has been the most dominant running back in the NFL for the past four years. Never mind the fact that he has carried this offense on his back since he arrived in Kansas City. Are our memories even so short that we have forgotten that prior to injuring his knee last season he was well on his way to breaking the NFL record for single season rushing touchdowns for the second consecutive year? An emergence of Johnson doesn't have to translate into the derailment of Holmes.
Though he has not yet earned the right to take over the starting role for Holmes, Larry Johnson is without question deserving of more carries and an expanded role in the offense. The only problem is finding a way to get him the touches he needs without taking away the valuable touches that go to Holmes. Even the head coach is a little perplexed on what to do. "I don't know if there's a scientific way to do it," said Coach Vermeil when asked about splitting carries between Johnson and Holmes. "I think there's an impulsive way to do it. You see someone who's breathing a little hard, who's carried the ball three times and got whacked pretty good, so you send the other guy in."
Coach Vermeil and Coordinator Al Saunders will have to get even more creative than usual if they want to get the ball in to both of their running backs hands' on a consistant basis. Through the first eight weeks of the 2004 season, Priest Holmes carried the football 196 times as opposed to the rest of the backs on the roster that combined for 52 carries. That is a fairly wide margin to overcome, especially when the head coach believes in allowing his running back to get in to the grove of a game. "I've never really liked to run running backs by committee." But Vermeil is also bent on finding a way to make it work. ‘I've never had two guys like this before. It's not a problem. It's better to be that way than have only one guy. I think we'll learn how to use it best as we go along and may have specific things in each game plan for each guy."
With game plans in mind, the duo of Holmes and Johnson could wind up being more prolific than many realize. One of the most overlooked improvements out of Johnson over the off-season has been his pass catching ability. Johnson can run the fade, the post, the flag and the go routes as well as most tight ends in the league. This gives the Chiefs the option of using him in a similar fashion to h-back Kris Wilson. In fact, the Chiefs could be in what appears to be a short yardage formation with Wilson and Gonzalez as two tight ends and Holmes and Johnson as split backs in the backfield. Wilson could motion to the flanker, and Johnson or Holmes could motion to the slot, which would then turn the formation in to a three-receiver spread offense. At that point, you could find a favorable match up or simply hand the ball off to the running back, anyway, now that the defense is thinking pass.
Regardless of how it is done, I am confident that Al Saunders will create some great opportunities for Holmes and Johnson to make plays. With players as talented as those two, it should be easy for him to create mismatches. It might just pave the way for Kansas City's most explosive offense yet.
No Controversy This Is A Two Headed Monster
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