In huge season-opening win, Chiefs lose All-Pro safety for 2017 season


In huge season-opening win, Chiefs lose All-Pro safety for 2017 season

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One of the biggest season-opening wins in Chiefs history came at the expense of their All-Pro safety.

Eric Berry ruptured his left Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's 42-27 victory over the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, not only ending his season but leaving the Chiefs without one of the most visible and vocal leaders on their defense.

"You're not going to replace Eric Berry with another Eric Berry. That's not what happens," said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who confirmed the team's initial fears in a conference call Friday. "But the guys know that Eric would be disappointed if they left off the accelerator at all. I think we'll be OK there."

Berry was hurt while covering Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski on a passing route. He hobbled at the end of the play and promptly sat on the turf, where the team's training staff began examining him. Berry did not appear to be in obvious discomfort, but it took a cart to remove him from the field.

The Chiefs have dealt with a rash of Achilles tendon injuries in recent years, including two sustained by Derrick Johnson. The star linebacker's latest occurred late last season, but he managed to return to the field by summer workouts and was a full participant in training camp.

Berry also has a history of overcoming serious hurdles in his career.

He missed most of the 2011 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee, only to start 16 games the following season. He also missed the final 10 games of the 2014 regular season while undergoing treatment for lymphoma, only to return to training camp and again play all 16 games the following season.

Berry was coming off arguably his best year in 2016, when he made 77 tackles, picked off four passes and returned two for touchdowns. He almost single-handedly won a game in Atlanta, and was a big reason why the Chiefs went 12-4 and won their first AFC West title since 2010.

His performance while playing under the franchise tag earned him a $78 million, six-year contract this past offseason, making Berry the highest-paid safety in the league.

"I'm on a bit of a low right now," Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. "I love him to death. He's our fearless leader, and to see him go down in the first game breaks your heart."

The Chiefs are deep at safety, though. Eric Murray played well after Berry left the game, while Daniel Sorenson - who fulfills multiple roles in the defense - could also play the position.

The game Thursday night also gives the Chiefs some extra time to assess options before playing their home opener against Philadelphia on Sept. 17. Reid said he expected new general manager Brett Veach to scour the waiver wire and inquire about safeties outside the organization as well.

"Brett's keeping his eyes open for things right now. That's what he does," Reid said. "He's always on top of that. We're just kind of seeing the different options there."

In the meantime, Reid said he expects Berry to continue to have a role on the team.

He broke down the defensive huddle even after leaving the game Thursday night, providing some energy for them when the outcome was still hanging in the balance, and Reid joked that Berry might get a head-start on a potential post-playing career by auditioning as an assistant coach.

"He had an opportunity to talk to the team last night after the game," Reid said, "and I know he'd be very disappointed if anybody hung their head or let that be an issue. And I thought the guys handled it very well after Eric got hurt. Our guys were able to kind of muster it up and keep the emotional football part of it in focus there."

Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders


Quarterback drafted by Jon Gruden in 2008 signs with Raiders

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden had a hand in drafting Josh Johnson a decade ago. The agile quarterback and Oakland native was a Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick in 2008, Gruden’s last year as Buccaneers coach.

The pair will reunite in Johnson’s hometown. The well-traveled quarterback signed with the Raiders on Monday, the team announced.

Johnson will compete with Connor Cook to backup starter Derek Carr, and brings a veteran’s influence to the position group. It likely spells the end of EJ Manuel’s short tenure in silver and black. The strong-armed former first-round pick, who started one game last season, remains a free agent after a year with the Raiders.

This move should make Marshawn Lynch happy. He and Johnson are extremely close and together run the Family First Foundation, a charitable organization that does significant work for East Bay kids. Johnson and Lynch also played football together at Oakland Tech High.

Johnson has played 10 NFL teams prior to this Raiders stop, but hasn’t played in a regular-season game for some time.

Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'


Raiders well equipped to 'slam the ball with a beast'

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden needed specific tools to run his running game. He wanted blocking tight ends and a bruising fullback, relics of a bygone offensive era.

“If Marshawn Lynch is the feature back, I think it’d be nice if we serviced him with a fullback,” Gruden said at the combine. … You need a blocking tight end if you’re going to slam the ball with a beast. So, those are two things that I’m looking for.”

Gruden said he wanted to import some old-school elements to help run with brute force.

Enter free-agent fullback Kyle Smith and tight end Derek Carrier. Welcome back, Lee Smith.

Then, on Sunday, Raiders made another vital move in this old school effort. They cut Marshawn Lynch a $1 million check.

The Oakland native’s roster bonus came due and the Raiders had no problem paying it, the clearest sign Lynch will be the Raiders feature back in 2018.

He’ll have a great chance to thrive in that role. The Raiders have a hulking, expensive offensive line (that still needs a right tackle). They have new ancillary blocking elements, and the centerpiece remains in place.

That last part was expected in recent weeks. The coaching staff, offensive line coach Tom Cable especially, wanted Lynch back. NFL Network confirmed those facts, stating Lynch will be around in 2018.

That was the case, even with Doug Martin’s addition. The former Tampa Bay back is expected to be a backup bruiser, someone who might put DeAndre Washington or (less likely) Jalen Richard’s job in jeopardy.

The Raiders can cut Lynch without a cap hit. Lynch is scheduled to make $6 million in salary and bonuses, with another $2 million available in incentives. The Raiders should hope to pay those; it would mean Lynch is running well.

The Raiders have given him a great opportunity to do so. They have solid blocking and a coach in Cable who helped him succeed during dominant days in Seattle.

Lynch proved he’s still got it in 2017’s second half, with 70 percent of his 891 rushing yards in the final eight games. He struggled early on, and upset some fans by helping the opposition during a scuffle with Kansas City. That mitigated a PR bump the Raiders looked for when signing a popular Oakland native just months after committing to Las Vegas long-term.

Jack Del Rio and staff grew tired of what they perceived as leeway given to Lynch unavailable to others, and probably wouldn’t have kept him on if still gainfully employed.

Gruden seems committed to Lynch this season, though nothing is ever 100 percent with an enigmatic rusher who doesn’t make private thoughts public.

His elusive, rough-and-tumble rushing style fits well with what Gruden wants, though he demands commitment to the team and sport. Sports Illustrated relayed a story of Gruden saying he needed a “full-time Lynch.”

If he gets that, the Raiders run game should thrive.