KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Justin Houston practiced in a full role Thursday, but the rotation at linebacker remains the biggest question mark for the Chiefs heading into Sunday’s playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The potential return of Houston gives the Chiefs a full complement on the outside. That gives defensive coordinator Bob Sutton to ability to mix and match Houston, Dee Ford, Tamba Hali and Frank Zombo based on situations. The team also added Victor Ochi, signed last week to replace rookie Dadi Nicolas.
The inside linebacker position remains more fluid since the loss of Derrick Johnson. D.J. Alexander filled in for 41 snaps in week 15. Terrance Smith took over the spot alongside Ramik Wilson in the final two weeks, playing a total of 40 snaps.
The Chiefs have spent the majority of their defensive snaps without a second inside backer since Johnson’s injury. During the past three weeks the Chiefs typically deployed an extra corner or safety in place an inside backer.
The team also activated Justin-March Lillard from injured reserve before week 17, but he did not play against San Diego. The second-year linebacker hasn’t played since suffering a broken bone in his against Oakland in week 6. The team does not list March-Lillard with an injury designation, an indication the team considers him completely recovered from his injury.
Against the Steelers in week 17, March-Lillard played 63 percent of the team’s snaps with team playing a 3-4 base defense most of the game.
Coach Andy Reid expressed some optimism March-Lillard could return against the Steelers.
“He’s had a couple of good weeks of practice,” Reid said. “We’ll just see how he does.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said March-Lillard spent most of his time on the scout team since his return to practice.
“I think it just a wait-and-see kind of thing,” Sutton said. “Obviously he hasn’t played in a quite a while.”
Did not participate in practice: LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle), TE Ladarius Green (concussion) and DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
Limited participation: LB Bud Dupree (shin) and RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)
Full participation: QB Ben Roethlisberger (foot), S Robert Golden (ankle), S Sean Davis (shoulder), LB Vince Williams (shoulder) and DE Stephon Tuitt (ankle)
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Did not participate in practice: None
Limited participation: None
Full participation: LB Justin Houston (knee), LB Tamba Hali (knee) RB Spencer Ware (rib) and S Eric Berry (Achilles)