What's Next: Running Backs

Apparently new Kansas City Chiefs head coach Herm Edwards told running back Larry Johnson that he would be the starter at the beginning of the 2006 season. Even if Priest Holmes come back, it's obvious at this point that Johnson should be the starter, and probably should have been the starter last season. If 1750 yards in nine starts doesn't win you a starting job, what will?

Of course, this creates a sticky situation, its win-win all the way for the Chiefs but is it best for the dynamic duo. Since coming to Kansas City Holmes has put together the greatest tear by a running back in Chiefs history, leading the league in rushing in 2001, and setting the recently broken single season record for touchdowns.

If Holmes had arrived in Kansas City earlier, we'd all be talking about Holmes going to the Hall of Fame. The reality is that Holmes has completed only two seasons in five years with the Chiefs.
In, Larry Johnson, the Chiefs have the best young running back in the NFL, one who can punish a defense, yet put on the jets once he gets into the secondary. Johnson was the best running back on the roster in 2005, and should have been the starter from the jump. When Johnson finally got into the starting lineup through an unfortunate injury to Holmes, he proved it game after game. Now it's his turn.

The Chiefs need Holmes AND Johnson. With Johnson starting and Holmes spelling the younger back, it could take the Chiefs offense to new heights. They will score lots points next season. They will exploit weaknesses in the strongest of defenses. The two of them would have to be accounted for on every down.

The only question mark is whether Holmes will return. Holmes sustained a neck injury in the first game against the Chargers, shutting down his season, and it's still unclear whether or not Holmes injury is career threatening. Even if Holmes is completely recovered, no one really knows if Holmes would be willing to take a back seat to the younger Johnson.

The Chiefs are going to want to take a hard look at the running back depth behind Johnson, even if Holmes comes back. The only difference is whether the Chiefs will look to add one running back or two. Currently, the Chiefs have reserves Dee Brown and McKenzi Smith signed for nest season and each is fighting to make the active roster, and each could be tempted to see what else is out there on the open market. There isn't a need for a big name running back, so look for the Chiefs to add a cheaper veteran.

Probably the most intriguing prospect would be free agent Ron Dayne, who resurrected his career in Denver this past season. Drafted in the first round years ago by the New York Giants, Dayne was thought to be a franchise back, but couldn't seem to get his career on track until spending a season with the Broncos, proving that he could be an effective reserve or change-up back. Dayne is a big back with good feet, like a poor man's Jerome Bettis or Jamal Lewis, and his vision and explosion have improved since coming into the league.

On the fullback front, look for the Chiefs to stand pat. Tony Richardson will likely resign with the Chiefs, although at a reduced salary, and the young Ronnie Cruz will continue to be groomed as his replacement. Cruz fits the bill of a traditional Chiefs fullback. He's a big guy who can run the ball, catch the ball and he blocks very well. All Cruz needs is more time to develop, with T-Rich ahead of him, he's learning from the best.


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