RIVER FALLS, Wis. — Priest Holmes sat out Tuesday’s practice with a hip problem. Those two words, “hip problem,” would have spread panic through the Kansas City Chiefs camp a year ago.
This year, though, nobody is sweating. Holmes, a three-time All-Pro running back, is more than a year removed from the surgery on his right hip that many feared could end his career.
“His hip got tired on him, and he just sort of ran out of gas and got weak,” said coach Dick Vermeil after Tuesday’s morning workout. “He just backed down and probably won’t practice tonight.”
Instead of calling it a career after his surgery, Holmes led the Chiefs to a 13-3 record, scoring a league-record 27 touchdowns. A vigorous offseason workout program has brought him back for his eighth season feeling more energetic than he has felt in at least three years.
“This is my second camp since the hip injury. I know that just by the accumulation of practice time it’s going to get sore and fatigue,” he said. “It’s just a matter of stepping away and taking off a practice.”
Holmes’ mended hip has also led to amended goals.
“Last year the motivation was a lot different, more personal of getting back on the field and not letting my teammates down,” he said. “Now it’s about winning the championship. I think we have every component we need to get to (the Super Bowl.)”
Although he got off to a slow start last year, as the hip gained strength, Holmes still ran for 1,420 yards. That was down from the 1,615 yards rushing in had in 14 games the season before, when the injury shelved him for the final two games.
Now, back to full strength and running behind one of the NFL’s finest offensive lines, the Chiefs hope Holmes is headed for a monster season. At 31, he still has youth on his side.
“I would expect him to, and he expects to have a better year,” Vermeil said.
No other player in the NFL over the past three seasons can match Holmes’ 4,590 yards rushing, 6,566 yards from scrimmage and 61 touchdowns. And so there is no doubt that Vermeil swallowed hard last March when Holmes walked into his office and said he was thinking about retiring.
Vermeil talked him out of it.
“It was a matter of just a thought,” Holmes said. “I shared it with coach Vermeil, and we worked it out.”
Still, after taking so many hits for all these years, retirement was looking good.
“I know ... if I go in there with any hesitation or any doubt that I want to be in there running the ball, I can get hurt,” he said.
While at the University of Texas, Holmes was sobered by the sight of former Longhorn All-American Earl Campbell hobbling around after taking too many hits in the NFL.
“The condition he was in at the time made you as a running back wonder, ‘Will I end up the same way?’” he said.
A conditioning nut, Holmes believes he’ll go into his retirement still able to hoist his grandchildren onto his back.
“I believe just with the work ethic, always conditioning my body, I’ll be in a situation where I feel comfortable walking away and being in the right position,” he said.
Another reason to keep playing was his father, Army Sgt. Herman Morris. A supply sergeant serving in Iraq, Morris will be there until January and loves to watch his son play football.
“On Sundays, he’s going to get a chance to be in the tent and sit around with all those guys watching football,” Holmes said. “What better way for him being that far away and be able to still see me? I’m not going to be seen any other way if I’m not playing.”
Plus, there’s an overriding sense that he still has much to achieve.
“I definitely don’t believe I’m done,” he said. “I have so much more to do on the field, just the things we can bring to Kansas City. I know I play a special part in that, a huge part, so I want to make sure I’m there.”