Johnson more focused on Super Bowl than being Chiefs' workhorse

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Johnson more focused on Super Bowl than being Chiefs' workhorse

By Penny Brown, USA TODAY

He's come a long way, baby.
If the NFL awarded a second-half MVP, Chiefs running back Larry Johnson would've been the hands-down winner. His 2005 performance was astounding: 1,750 rushing yards (third in the league), 336 carries, 20 rushing touchdowns (second in the league). All that in nine starts.

And it all happened just a year after former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said he needed to "take the diapers off."

The Chiefs selected Johnson in the first round of the 2003 draft as the eventual successor to Priest Holmes, and they certainly got everything they bargained for. Johnson has shown an increased level of maturity to go along with improved playing skills. New Chiefs coach Herm Edwards even plans to adjust the offense to one that is more run-oriented, just to get the ball to Johnson as often as possible.

"We have a great running back," Edwards said at a June minicamp. "The easiest way to get that guy the ball is to turn around and give it to him. You need to run the ball to do that. I just think in certain games, you have to have the mentality that if you're going to win on the road in a hostile environment, you have to have a good running game. Period. That's what teams do."

Edwards also says Johnson is working on his blocking skills. "He's a hard worker, and he knows he has to continue to improve in his blocking. ... He wants to be a complete player, has great respect for the history of the game and the great running backs."

After a breakout 2005 season, Johnson will face greater challenges in 2006. First, he won't be taking anyone by surprise. And without a strong complement like he once had in Holmes, Johnson might as well be wearing a bull's-eye. If Holmes, who suffered neck and head injuries against the Chargers last October, can't make it back, Johnson's backup will be journeyman Dee Brown, who had all of seven carries with the Chiefs last year and hasn't made a start since 2002.

The status of Holmes, who missed the last nine games of 2005, remains unclear. Edwards said Holmes is looking to be medically cleared first but he anticipates having the eight-year veteran out of Texas in training camp.

Another challenge will stem from personnel changes beyond the possible loss of Holmes.

The offensive line will be shifting somewhat after the retirement of tackle John Welbourn, though the team did add veteran Kyle Turley. Fullback Tony Richardson moved to the Vikings as a free agent, which Johnson called "a really bad loss."

But perhaps more important is the change at offensive coordinator. After Al Saunders moved to the Redskins, former offensive line coach Mike Solari took the reins at coordinator.

"The offense is going to change a little bit with a new coordinator," Edwards said at a recent minicamp. "Mike is going to have to get a feel for how we call plays and what we run.

"For me it's going to be offense and determining the players that are going to make plays there. I'm a big believer in that. Get the matchups. There are four or five guys over there that can make plays. Now we've just got to find a way to get them the ball."

NFL Network analysts Rod Woodson and Solomon Wilcots feel Johnson is a lock to lead the league in rushing in 2006.

"He will win the rushing title barring injury this year," Woodson says.

"His powerful build makes him a bruising runner, but his acceleration makes him a pure breakaway threat every time he touches the ball," Wilcots says. "His youth and relatively low use makes him the heir apparent to capture the league's rushing title."

To Johnson, there are more important objectives.

"There's only one goal, and that's to get Will Shields, Willie Roaf, Trent Green and those guys a chance to go to the Super Bowl," Johnson said at a May minicamp. "That 2,000-yard stuff doesn't bother me much, and it's not really one of my goals. If it happens, it happens. And if it doesn't, I've got about four, five or maybe seven or eight years left in me to try to get that record."

Johnson also holds high expectations for himself.

"I'm never happy. When I feel like I'm successful in my own right, I will never be happy with anything, period. I haven't started one full season yet. I haven't gotten this team to a Super Bowl.

"I'm really looking forward to this season and getting things rolling because I feel like I still have a lot to prove."

Contributing: Jim Corbett, The Associated Press

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chiefs/2006-07-12-upcoming-rb_x.htm
 
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