- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

Priest Holmes will be 33 years old in October. Injuries kept him out of 17 of 32 games the past two seasons. Larry Johnson more than picked up the slack in his absence during the final two months of 2005.

But Kansas City’s career rushing leader isn’t ready to walk away in the wake of the helmet-to-helmet collision with San Diego’s Shawne Merriman on Oct. 30. Holmes, who has been seeing spinal specialist Robert Watkins, still hasn’t been cleared for contact.

“Why wouldn’t I?” the three-time Pro Bowl pick said when asked if he wanted to keep playing. “I feel great. Medically, what I’ve been told is that I need to wait and not make a quick decision based on the feeling [that] I can get out there. I believe at the end of the day, it’s my final decision. Will I take what [the doctors] say to heart and really think about it? I will once the time comes.”

Holmes, a backup for three of his four seasons in Baltimore before leading the NFL in rushing after signing with Kansas City in 2001, isn’t frustrated that his career is in limbo.

“You have to remember how I came up,” said Holmes, who made the Ravens in 1997 as a rookie free agent. “I was never just handed the starting position. I had to show first and then was rewarded.”

Some message — Jacksonville’s longtime No. 1 running back Fred Taylor has complained about NFL teams being “unloyal” and how he would be “on the streets” if the Jaguars found someone better.

The Jaguars hoped to answer Taylor by taking Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams 28th overall. But Carolina took Williams 27th. Jacksonville picked tight end Marcedes Lewis instead, opting for UCLA running back Maurice Drew in the second round.

That’s fine, except Drew is just 5-foot-7. He and third-year man Greg Jones combined might not be enough to allow the Jaguars to dump the 30-year-old Taylor, who has surpassed 1,200 yards in five of his eight seasons. Former New York Giant Joe Morris — a two-time Pro Bowl selection — is a rare back as short as Drew who became a star.

The passing game could struggle, too. With longtime No. 1 receiver Jimmy Smith’s unexpected retirement last month, the Jaguars are left with Ernest Wilford, Matt Jones and Reggie Williams — who caught 112 passes among them in 2005 — as their top three wideouts.

Humbled star — Linebacker Anthony Simmons, Seattle’s first-rounder in 1998, started 81 games the next seven seasons before being cut last year because of his questionable attitude and health. Now 30, Simmons is trying to make a comeback in New Orleans. And Simmons didn’t get the usual red carpet treatment when he visited the Saints before coming aboard this spring. Far from it. Simmons stayed out by the airport with linebackers coach Joe Vitt for two days, eating most of his meals at Popeye’s.

“Joe wanted to break Anthony down a little bit, get to know him a little bit better on a personal level,” said Saints player personnel director Rick Mueller. “They ate fast food and grinded on tape for two days. They really got to know each other and we came away thinking, ‘This kid’s focused and ready to turn his career around and make a go of it.’ We got the feeling that he was hungry.”

Even after eating such gourmet chow?

Where’s Willis? — Thurman Thomas, Buffalo’s career rushing leader, took a shot at current star running back Willis McGahee for not showing up for the Bills’ voluntary offseason activities.

“Whether it was mandatory or voluntary or whatever, we showed up,” Thomas said. “If you want to be a true leader and call yourself the best running back in the NFL, you should act like it and show your true colors and come here and be a team leader.”

Keystone State rules — Pennsylvanians love football. Defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh and 2004 NFC winner Philadelphia were the top two teams in sales of NFL paraphernalia in the year that ended on March 31. The rest of the top 10 included teams that won at least a division title during the past two years, along with perennial big sellers Oakland (third) and Dallas (fourth).

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