I make no bones of the fact that I am a homer. I root for all things Kansas University and Kansas City, because that’s what I grew up with. But that means I root for the franchise, and if an individual player punks the franchise, I have problems with that.
The object of my ire this week is Chiefs running back Larry Johnson, who finally scored his first touchdown of the season in a romp agains the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that was starting a down lineman in their decimated linebacker corps.
Larry has done great things for the Chiefs, without a doubt. His previous two seasons, and the amazing ten-game clinic he put on in 2004 following a Priest Holmes injury, are worthy accomplishments which I will not denigrate. What I will take issue with is the fact that LJ seems to think that those stellar seasons have exempted him from any need for improvement.
The Chiefs’ running game thrived under Dick Vermiel because the passing game was so potent. Holmes and Johnson had an all-pro offensive line to run behind, the efficacy of which was proven by the success two very different runners had within the system. Under Herm Edwards, the system is different, the linemen are different, and the QB is different. Yards have been hard to come by, and Larry has pouted. In the Cincinnati game, he pulled his team out of the red zone by slamming the ball to the turf after a negative-yardage play, drawing a penalty. And this was in a game that his team was winning.
In addition, LJ’s poor blocking was extremely evident in this last weekend’s game. While I don’t expect him to get to every blitzer who comes through, I do expect him to look like he wants to. On a couple of replays, Johnson made minimal effort to stop defensive players from leveling his QB – it was just that obvious. Now, if I were paid to lug the rock, I wouldn’t want to block, either. But even I know that failure in the passing game leads to fewer opportunities in the running game.
Now, to clear one thing up. I am not picking on Larry Johnson because I was spoiled by the high-flying Vermeil offense. I grew up with the likes of Christian Okoye and Barry Word in the Chiefs backfield, and I freaking loved it. LJ is my kind of runner, and I love it that he can catch the ball out of the backfield, and dish out punishment. I just want to see more determination and less pouting, QUITE FRANKLY.
Many Chiefs fans are also deploring LJ’s holdout this season, but I am not one of them. While I do wish it hadn’t been necessary, I believe that Larry’s demands were legitimate – he is the future of this organization, and he was ridden hard in 2006, to the tune of a record-setting 416 carries. Tack on a career-high 41 catches that went for two more TDs, and the Chiefs organization would seem to owe Larry Johnson one hell of a lot. The NFL does not have a history of taking care of its own, nor does Carl Peterson. Johnson deserved a raise, and he should have had it before camp started.
So, basically, it comes down to “yeah, things suck right now.” So the question then becomes: is our franchise back going to throw tantrums about it, or is he going to try a new approach? If Larry Johnson wants to be “the Man” in K.C., he has to make his detractors eat their words the way that winners always do – by refusing to play the victim, and showing what he’s really about.
The best revenge is living well. Just ask Peyton Manning.