KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Jamaal Charles and Kolby Smith split most of the practice time Wednesday as the Chiefs' running backs, both of them trying to prove they're ready for a more significant role.
Charles caught passes during practice, and Smith tested his surgically repaired knee at the team's indoor facility. Both appeared capable of handling a greater load.
"If they need me, I can be used," Smith said.
They need him. Starting running back Larry Johnson was issued a two-week suspension by the Chiefs on Wednesday night for conduct detrimental to the team. He will not be permitted at team headquarters or allowed to participate in team activities before Nov. 9, the day after the Chiefs play at Jacksonville.
Johnson had already been barred from the team Tuesday for remarks he made earlier in the week, although that was not a suspension. Until the team escalated Johnson's punishment, he was listed on the Chiefs' 53-man roster and would have received his weekly checks. While suspended, Johnson won't be paid, saving the Chiefs about $660,000 in total compensation the next two weeks.
Johnson's agent, Peter Schaffer, told The Star that an appeal would be filed today. He said he would ask for an expedited hearing and he hoped for an expedited response.
"We respectfully disagree," Schaffer said. "This punishment doesn't fit the action."
The Chiefs issued a statement Wednesday night announcing Johnson's suspension, and a spokesman said the team wouldn't comment further. Coach Todd Haley wouldn't take questions about Johnson's status Wednesday afternoon.
Johnson posted disparaging remarks Sunday night on his Twitter page, starting with a remark about Haley's lack of football playing experience. He later posted a gay slur in response to one of his Twitter followers, and Johnson directed another gay slur Monday morning in the Chiefs' locker room.
Johnson was benched three games in 2008 after he was arrested on assault charges for alleged late-night incidents involving women, and the NFL issued a one-game suspension. Johnson told reporters repeatedly after last season that he wanted out of Kansas City, before he reversed course upon the hiring of Haley and GM Scott Pioli. The Chiefs' new leaders agreed to forget Johnson's past if he could change his ways in the future.
Johnson, a two-time former Pro Bowler, was optimistic and cheerful most times, before the team's losing and Johnson's ineffectiveness set in. Johnson averaged 2.7 yards per carry in seven games this season, and he appeared frustrated after two of the Chiefs' six losses. After Sunday's 37-7 loss to San Diego at Arrowhead Stadium, Johnson turned to Twitter to vent.
Three days later, Johnson's most recent suspension is set, but his future is far from certain. The league could hit Johnson with additional punishment after his team suspension expires. Johnson's contract runs through 2012, and further punishment could affect additional money that, under his current deal, Johnson is due to receive.
Among the scenarios:
The Chiefs could deactivate Johnson for some or all of its remaining eight games after his team suspension expires. That would save the Chiefs some money; Johnson receives a bonus for each game he appears on the team's 45-man roster. Johnson still would be entitled to his yearly salary — about $330,000 per week — which is guaranteed as long as he's on the 53-man roster.
The league also could suspend Johnson for anywhere from one game to the remainder of the season. If Johnson were suspended, he wouldn't receive the prorated portion of his yearly salary for those weeks.
The Chiefs could release Johnson, but not only would they have to pay Johnson the remainder of his 2009 salary — his 2010 salary does not become guaranteed until he makes the opening-week roster next season — but he would be free to sign this season with another team.
For now, the Chiefs are left with three young running backs — in addition to Charles and Smith, second-year rusher Dantrell Savage also is an option — with questions surrounding them as well.
Savage has worked primarily this season as a kick returner. Smith, who spent the first six weeks on the physically-unable-to-perform list, said he trusts his knee enough to return and take on upward of 20 carries per game. He's in the second week of a three-week window the Chiefs can observe his progress and gauge his health. The Chiefs have this week and next to decide whether to activate Smith, release him or place him on injured reserve. Smith said he hopes that coaches see that he's ready.
Charles doesn't hurt for confidence, either, saying he's ready to be the Chiefs' featured rusher.
"I want the ball. I want to make plays," said Charles, a second-year player who has shown flashes of immense talent but also a habit of fumbling. "People see it, too: I'm a winner. I make stuff happen.
"Put me in. Give me some plays where I can help the team out. When I get the torch in my hand, I'm going to help my team out as much as possible."
The Chiefs could use that kind of enthusiasm and optimism, particularly on a 1-6 team that has yet to score a rushing touchdown this season. The St. Louis Rams are the only other team without a rushing score.
Haley said his coaching staff is spending its extra time this week installing what the Chiefs hope is a more effective offense. That could mean more emphasis on Charles and, if he's healthy, Smith.
Regardless, it'll likely include less emphasis on Johnson. That'll be an adjustment for the Chiefs, as Johnson has taken 132 of the Chiefs' 204 carries this season. Haley said he's glad the team has a bye this week.
"Much needed," Haley said. "It couldn't come at a better time for us."
The Chiefs have options and time. Now they'll have to adjust, for two weeks and perhaps more, to an offense that doesn't include Larry Johnson.