Keeping Up With The Johnsons

Two of the most popular Chiefs jerseys over the last six years feature the name "Johnson." The numbers are different, but Larry and Derrick Johnson were drafted highly to become cornerstones of KC's franchise. Both have been fan favorites at one time or another.

Larry has spent his time both as a revered warrior on the field and a despised figure off it. Sunday against the Cowboys, he surpassed Priest Holmes for the most carries in franchise history. He posted back-to-back 1,700-yard seasons in 2005 and 2006, attended two Pro Bowls and was voted first-team All Pro in 2005.

He also got mixed up in several off-field incidents, and since holding out of training camp due to a contract dispute in 2007, he has been everything but the workhorse he was prior. Combining his efforts from the last two seasons and this one, he's still shy of 1,700 yards. Averaging just 2.4 yards per carry so far this year, Larry has many wondering whether he's over the hill. One anonymous local media member called him the worst starting running back in the NFL.

If you simply go by the numbers, that conclusion isn't far fetched. However, a running back is at the mercy of his offensive line and passing game, and the Chiefs are not having a banner year in either area. Head coach Todd Haley says there's more to look at than sheer numbers.

"I thought that Larry ran hard (Sunday)," he said. "I thought (the statistics) were a little misleading. We threw a couple of those swing passes that ended up being counted as runs, specifically the one for the big loss, where there's really nothing he could do about it. The kid ran hard. He stuck it up in there and he needs a little help, too."

Even Haley admits Larry needs help from his teammates, but is Johnson doing his job to best of his abilities? Haley pointed to the running back's work in the passing game as a positive.

"He caught a big ball for us out of the backfield, which is a tough catch, which resulted in a first down - excellent run after catch," said Haley. "I thought he had two terrific blitz pickups, one where we had a situation where the guard had to come down and he ended up on the three-technique, 99, and cut the guy to the ground, really beat up on him, and another one where he was cutting 93, so these things are positives. It wasn't all great, but I think Larry was an important part of us being in a position to win."

Luckily for Larry and his numbers, the Chiefs experienced some success with the no-huddle, predominantly-shotgun offense late against the Cowboys. It's possibly they might use it more, which would be reminiscent of Chan Gailey's shift to the spread last season. In that offense, Johnson's volume of rushing yards didn't necessarily shoot up, but his yards per carry average did, peaking at 4.5.

If Derrick has a chance to experience such a hike in production, the first step will be getting on the field. Derrick, perhaps more so than Larry, was drafted with high expectations. He was selected 12 spots higher and was supposed to be a huge contributor to the Chiefs finally finding an answer on defense.

Perhaps Derrick isn't being granted the benefit of the doubt Larry is because his career has yet to reach the same heights. No one has ever denied Derrick's physical talent, but his production has not yet caught up, as his single-season sack high is 4.5, coming in 2006.

Like Dwayne Bowe and Jarrad Page, Haley seemingly attempted to reach the underachieving Johnson by sliding him down the depth chart. But something went wrong, because he still hasn't regained his starting role despite capitalizing on his limited playing time by creating two of the Chiefs' most exciting defensive plays this season. Recently, Johnson has appeared on the injury report, and Haley recited his health as a reason for the decrease in playing time.

Against the Cowboys, Johnson played mainly on special teams. Haley admitted Monday his health wasn't the reason.

"There's a lot of factors that go into it," he said. "Right now, I'd rather you be talking about Demorrio Williams, because that guy came out and played a heck of a game, and (he and Johnson) happen to play the same position, so we're going to play the guys that give us the best chance to win, period, like I've said from the start. Fifty-three, talk about him, that guy busted his butt, made a lot of plays. Good production, we'll play the guys that have the best chance to win, period."

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