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Chiefs' Lilja ready to face off against old friends

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010, at 12:03 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Oct. 7, 2010, at 8:36 p.m.

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. —For six months, ever since the NFL schedule was announced, Ryan Lilja had this game highlighted, the one that sends the Chiefs to Indianapolis for Sunday's meeting with the Colts.

Now that it's almost here, it's not as big an event as the Chiefs' starting right guard anticipated.

"It's obviously a little personal for me, having played there for a few years," Lilja said. "I'd be lying if I told you it was just another game for me. But it's a good football team on the road that we've got to go beat. It's a good team for us to gauge ourselves against. I want to go get a win against a good team.

"I haven't really had to keep reminding myself of how important this game is for this team. We had the (open date) so we've had some time, more than usual, to get ready for this one."

Lilja played six seasons for Indianapolis and helped the Colts to two Super Bowls, one a victory. He was released shortly after the Colts lost last season's Super Bowl to New Orleans, with the Colts telling him they wanted to acquire bigger players for their offensive line.

"It was just kind of one of the things that happen," Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell said, declining to be specific. "It's kind of the nature of the business and how things work out.

"He gave us some great years of service and did a tremendous job for us."

That's why Lilja's release surprised almost everyone.

"Lilja was one of our guys," Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "You're always kind of surprised when you see a guy that's been there and been there and been there and (then) he's not there.

"We miss how he was around the locker room, his camaraderie with the guys, his play on the field. There are some guys you definitely miss, and Ryan is definitely one of those."

Lilja at that point opted to come home. Born in Kansas City and a graduate of Shawnee Mission Northwest High, Lilja signed with the Chiefs, who were only too happy to have him fill a wide hole in their offensive line.

The Chiefs certainly have no regrets. At 3-0, they're the only remaining undefeated NFL team in no small part because of the solid play of their offensive line.

Lilja provides the Chiefs some stability at a position — right guard — where they had little last year. In 2009, they went through three starters, and none of them is still with the Chiefs.

Lilja, who is over the initial shock of his release, is not complaining. He would always return home to Kansas City during the Colts' open date and in the off-season. Lilja was married over the summer and moved into a new home in Lake Quivira.

So far, his return to Kansas City has exceeded his expectations.

"There's some anxiety when you switch teams," he said. "You're not familiar with the offense or the coaching staff, and you don't know your teammates. That went away quick here; it's a great group. The coaching staff is one of the best. And then being home for me, you can't beat it. There's no place I'd rather be. It's been great. I'm thrilled to be here, lucky to be here. Who complains about being home?

"That's a little strange for me, but it's great. During the (open date), everybody's going home, but this is my home."

Meanwhile, the Colts, who traditionally play well early in the season, are a pedestrian 2-2. While it's a stretch to suggest that's directly tied to Lilja's departure, they've had some uncharacteristic offensive problems.

They replaced Lilja with a third-year player, Jamey Richard, a former seventh-round draft pick. They've been unable to run the ball with any consistency and haven't protected quarterback Peyton Manning as well as they usually do.

"I still don't understand, and I'm sure he's still confused as to why he's not there anymore," Chiefs guard Brian Waters said, "especially based off how some of their guys are performing now. But I'm glad he's on our team. I'm glad we were able to benefit from that."

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