KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs return for preparations against the Tennessee Titans this week, and must do so without the reassuring presence of veteran inside linebacker Derrick Johnson.
Johnson sustained a torn Achilles tendon in the team’s 21-13 win over the Oakland Raiders Thursday night. The Chiefs may find an understudy to keep the show going, but coach Andy Reid said the team cannot replace Johnson’s leadership.
“You’re talking about a Pro-Bowl player and definitely one of the leaders on the defense,” Reid said.
Filling Johnson’s spot on the field ranks as the top priority for a Chiefs defense now missing one of its most valuable defenders, particularly against the run.
Second-year linebacker Ramik Wilson assumed most of Johnson’s duties following his departure against the Raiders. The team supplemented with safety support from Daniel Sorensen and Ron Parker. Reserve inside linebacker D.J. Alexander played just two snaps.
Potential in-house candidates include Alexander and rookie Terrance Smith. Reid also included outside linebacker Frank Zombo in that group. The team also recently added rookie Darnell Sankey to the practice squad.
Reid said general manager John Dorsey continues pursuing solutions for the dilemma, both on the roster and elsewhere.
“We feel comfortable that we have some guys here that can fill in and have filled in between D.J. Alexander and Zombo,” Reid said. “I think we’re still okay in that area if we didn’t do anything.”
The team also hasn’t ruled out the return of Justin March-Lillard from injured reserve. March-Lillard and Wilson battled in training camp for the role alongside Johnson in the linebacking corps.
March-Lillard won the role, but he sustained a broken bone in his hand against the Oakland Raiders in week six. The team placed him on injured reserve. He’s eligible to return from injured reserve.
But the Chiefs can only designate one player to return from injured reserve each season. Bringing back March-Lillard closes the door on a potential return by running back Jamaal Charles.
The team also continues to scour practice squads, the waiver wire and free agents for possible options.
Reid suggested the team hopes to move quickly on life without Johnson.
“Dorsey brought some guys in to also look at,” Reid said. “We’ll know more, I’m sure, throughout the day here.”
Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and the Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.