On Wednesday, the Kansas City Chiefs designated linebacker Justin March-Lillard as their player to return this season.
March-Lillard was originally placed on injured reserve with a broken hand back in mid-October, and now he's eligible to practice and begin playing immediately, although the Chiefs have not yet activated him to the 53-man roster. His 21-day practice window began on Wednesday.
Before his injury, March-Lillard had started five games for the Chiefs and had 22 tackles, two passes defensed and a tackle for loss.
March-Lillard practiced for the Chiefs on Wednesday and then again on Thursday.
"I think Justin [March-Lillard] is a lot like the other guys that have come back off being out for a while; they have to acclimate again, get used to it and all that stuff," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton told the media on Thursday. "I think it's just going to be a process over the next couple of days, this week or whatever it is and see where he's at to see if he's going to be able to contribute and how fast he can contribute."
Sutton was asked if there's a possibility that March-Lillard could play this week against the Broncos.
"I think we'll have to wait and see him in these last two practices to really say that," Sutton added. "I don't know what [coach Reid's] thought is on that yet since he just started. We'll have to wait and see and balance it with everybody. Those are always hard decisions because it's not just the linebacker position, it affects everybody on the roster to a degree on how you're going to allocate your positions and people coming up for the game."
As part of an adaptation to an existing rule that was proposed by the Buffalo Bills and passed at the NFL owners meetings last spring, the players who were designated to return under the old rule had to be established when the player initially went on the injured reserve list.
Now, teams can wait and designate those players whenever they want and be more strategic with their decisions.
The player cannot begin practicing unless they've been on the list for at least six weeks, and they can't begin playing or placed on the active roster until they've been on the list for at least eight weeks.
In the case of March-Lillard, it's been more than eight weeks, so there are no restrictions on when he could begin playing.
With the recent season-ending injury to veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson and the fact that March-Lillard was healthy enough to begin practicing, the new rule benefitted the Chiefs this year. As was the case with the old rule as well, teams are still only allowed to designate one player to return, which means veteran running back Jamaal Charles will not return this season.