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With Derrick Johnson's Injury, Chiefs Exploring All Options at Inside Linebacker

Johnson was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles suffered last Thursday night

The aftereffects of the franchise's all-time leading tackler, veteran inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, being lost for the season with his second ruptured Achilles over the past three years suffered last Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders can't be overstated. 

At 34 years old, Johnson, who leads the Chiefs with 90 tackles this season, went down with a non-contact injury late in the first half and was quickly ruled out.

It was apparent from the look on Johnson's face as he waited for trainers to come onto the field that it wasn't a minor problem.

"I'm going to pray for him and hope he stays strong," linebacker Justin Houston said after the game. "I know he'll stay strong, but the next man needs to be prepared."

Before Johnson's injury, the Chiefs defense had held the Raiders to just 47 yards on 23 plays, and after he left, the Raiders almost doubled that average with 198 yards on 50 plays.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Johnson was already gone by the time he got to the locker room after the game, but that he called him later that night and offered encouragement, adding that he wants him around this team moving forward this season.

"I want him around here," Reid said of his message to Johnson. "I don't want him to go anywhere. I want him to hang around, do his rehab and get himself back to where he can play, but in the meantime, he can work on a little coaching there with some of our young guys."

Johnson, a four-time Pro Bowler with more than 1,000 tackles in his illustrious career, has said before he wants to get into coaching when his career is over—whenever that may be.

When speaking with reporters on Monday afternoon, Reid said they're looking at all options to fill Johnson's linebacker spot moving forward, but that his leadership on the field will be missed.

"Well, you aren't going to replace him in that part," Reid explained. "You're talking about a Pro-Bowl player and definitely one of the leaders on the defense. We're fortunate that we have Eric Berry, Justin Houston and Dontari Poe. We've got some guys that are good leaders there.

"Those will be the guys that replace him."

On the field, Reid said they're exploring both in-house candidates as well as some guys that general manager John Dorsey and his staff have recently brought in to work out to play that inside linebacker position.

"[Dorsey] is going through the process right now looking at linebackers," Reid said. "We feel comfortable that we have some guys here that can fill in and have filled in between D.J. Alexander and [Frank] Zombo. I think we're still okay in that area if we didn't do anything.

"We also have Justin March-Lillard who's eligible to come back up, so he's someone we're looking at also. Dorsey brought some guys in to also look at. So, we'll know more, I'm sure, throughout the day here."

March-Lillard was placed on injured reserve with a hand injury on October 18.


The idea of bringing March-Lillard back from the injured reserve brings up another storyline moving forward considering only one player can be designated to return this season.

The other player who could potentially return is running back Jamaal Charles, who had surgery on both knees after being placed on injured reserve on November 2, but when asked on Monday afternoon about Charles' return as a possibility, Reid was non-committal.  

"I don't know that," Reid said. "[Charles] is still down at Dr. Andrews rehabbing down there. They're working on getting the swelling out of his knees or out of his one knee in particular. We'll see how all of this works down the road. That's Dorsey's area, but I know that part that I just told you.

"That decision will be made down the road."

The picture for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans at the linebacker position could be made a little clearer when the team takes the field for practice on Wednesday afternoon.

It's particularly key this week, as the Titans boast one of the NFL's best rushing attacks, which is led by veteran running back DeMarco Murray, who ranks second in the league with 1,135 yards rushing this season.

"He can bring it," Reid said of Murray, "and then they've got the young kid (Derrick Henry) that is a talented kid. He won the Heisman Trophy and he's carrying that over.

"Both of them are big guys and can play physical football."

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