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Peter King
September 02, 2002
A club beset by questions is counting on a Priest (Holmes) to deliver it from eternal limbo
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September 02, 2002

Kansas City Chiefs

A club beset by questions is counting on a Priest (Holmes) to deliver it from eternal limbo

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at Cleveland




at New England





at N.Y. Jets


at San Diego







Open date


at San Francisco




at Seattle







at Denver




at Oakland (Sat.)

NFL rank: 6
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .535
Games against playoff teams: 7

Assume, for the sake of the Chiefs' prospects this season, that tight end Tony Gonzalez will end his holdout sometime in September. His 80 or so catches are vital to the offense. Either Gonzalez will give up his dream to play in the NBA and sign a long-term contract with Kansas City, or he'll sign the one-year, $3.05 million offer the team has on the table. It's hard to imagine the man turning down at least $180,000 every Sunday.

Assume, also, that Trent Green won't be the mistake-prone quarterback he was a year ago, when he was coming off major knee surgery. Green had never turned the ball over much until last year, when he led the league with 24 interceptions. But that was after he had barely worked out with his new mates in the 2001 off-season. "I had some problems with accuracy," he says, "and that came from not making the throws in minicamps and training camp. I'm so much healthier this year."

Assume, too, that the offensive line—even with new left tackle Willie Roaf hobbling through camp as he recovers from October 2001 knee surgery and John Tait struggling to play right tackle for the first time in his career—will hold up. The interior line, led by Pro Bowl guard Will Shields, remains a strength.

If Gonzalez, Green and the line do their parts, then the question about the Kansas City offense comes down to this: Can Priest Holmes repeat his 2001 performance—2,169 total rushing and receiving yards—or was it a fluke?

Only Marshall Faulk had more yards from scrimmage last year than Holmes, who, with 1,555 yards on the ground, became the first undrafted player in 47 years to win a league rushing crown. Holmes wasn't drafted out of Texas five years ago because he was thought to be too small and too slow. But at 5'9" and 213 pounds he showed the strength to plow inside and the quickness to get around the corner. He was surprisingly hard to tackle, as was evident when he rushed for 150 yards against Pittsburgh, which had the NFL's best run defense.

The Chiefs seem concerned about Holmes's encore campaign. "There's no doubt in my mind that he'll have a big bull's-eye on his chest" says coach Dick Vermeil, entering his second season with the team. "He's going to get a lot more attention from teams than he did last year. I still think he can be a 1,300-yard rusher every year, but I'm not sure he can have the same kind of impact he had last year."

The doubts—not just Vermeil's but those of the fans and the media—are music to Holmes's ears. "That inspires me," he says. "The obstacles will be different this year, but I'm going back to work, and I'll face every one of them head-on. I've always known, even when I wasn't drafted, that greatness was attainable. Now it's here, it's reality, and I'm never going to let it go."

Holmes has reason to believe in himself. For one, his career rushing average before last year was 4.5 yards per carry, an excellent number for a guy who couldn't nail down the No. 1 job during four checkered seasons with the Ravens. For another, he plays as if he's a couple of different backs in one body. "My strength is being able to change hats," he says. "Tell me the defenses we're up against, and I'll play each one differently. We go against power, and I'll be elusive. We go against a quicker defense, I can steamroll them."

The Chiefs will try to employ Holmes differently in the passing game this season. Last year he caught mostly screens and swing passes; now he'll run more patterns five and 10 yards upfield. Vermeil hopes that will make the offense less predictable and give the attack a new dimension. "We had 28 takeaways last year and scored three touchdowns off them," Vermeil says. "That's horse manure! I used to walk off the field last year so depressed about our offense. I think we'll be better in all phases."

Of course, that depends on Gonzalez, Green, the line and—most of all—Holmes. "I legitimized my place in the game last year," Holmes says. "When that happens, after you've had people doubt you for years, you know there's no way you'll ever go back."

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