Johnson pining for preseason playing time

Sunday, August 26, 2007 | 10:39 p.m. CDT; updated 11:34 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

KANSAS CITY — Eager to chip away the rust, Larry Johnson is bugging Herm Edwards to let him run the ball in Kansas City’s final exhibition game against St. Louis on Thursday night.

But the coach, still concerned about the conditioning of a Pro Bowl running back who didn’t set foot on the practice field until a few days ago, may not be easy to sway.

“We’ll see,” Edwards said after a brisk practice Sunday afternoon. “If he does, if he wants to play, it’ll be real fast. Don’t blink, one of those kind of things. We’ll see where he’s at.”

Johnson worked out diligently before ending his 25-day holdout and signing a six-year deal that includes a guaranteed $19 million, the richest contract in Chiefs history.

But with the season opener looming on Sept. 9, he’s worried.

“You can run sprints all day, but if you’re out there running plays, cutting, dodging, that can get you up quicker,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to be able to cut and move and do some other things.”

Thursday night’s game at St. Louis will be the last chance for the 0-3 Chiefs to pick up a preseason win.

“Football shape is being able to cut, move, accelerate. Run plays and come back to the huddle, then 35 seconds and run another play,” Johnson said. “You run sprints and jog two or three miles. But if you’re not in football shape, that stuff doesn’t do anything for you. It’s all about being able to move around quicker and accelerate and make quick decisions. That’s how you get in football shape.

“I’d like to play the whole game. But they’re not going to let that happen.”

He said he planned to lobby Edwards for some playing time.

“He knows where my heart is. He knows if I put on the pads and warm up, I’m going to want to get a few snaps. We’ll see.”

Johnson, who carried an NFL-record 416 times last year for a team-record 1,789 yards rushing, figures he’s about a week away from being in “game shape.”

“I’m going to push myself as hard as I can tomorrow, to really push myself to a point where I may be exhausted,” he said. “But I think it’ll be better for me and for the team if I push myself as much as possible.”

He’s hoping he can help a struggling offensive line find its rhythm, too. Backups Michael Bennett and Kolby Smith have had little room to run.

“People who don’t run behind them don’t really understand the ins and outs,” he said. “I told (left guard) Brian Waters if I was back there, I know what’s going to happen. I know how to react on certain plays to help the offensive linemen out. Obviously, those running backs haven’t been back there long enough to know if this would have happened, to make another move and stuff like that. You’ve got to be able to adjust. You’ve got to be able handle everything. And I’m used to doing that with this offensive line.”

But Edwards said he’s thinking long term.

“He’s in good shape for a couple of runs,” he said. “But he’s not in shape to play a whole game yet. The thing you concern yourself most is when (running backs) get a little tired and they get a little loose with the ball, and the ball comes out. All of a sudden, they fumble because they’re fatigued. We’re not going to put him in that position. We’re going to be careful with him and bring him along in a 16-game season.”

The Chiefs also signed free-agent wide receiver Eddie Drummond on Sunday, hoping to bolster their return game. With Detroit, the one-time Pro Bowler averaged almost 10 yards on 108 punt returns, with four touchdowns. He averaged 23.6 yards for 5,026 yards on 213 kick returns.

“We anticipate he’ll play in the game this week,” Edwards said. “He’s a good special teams guy, a core guy.”

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