KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Derrick Johnson’s right Achilles tendon is doing good enough to press a gas pedal.
He hopes it’s good enough to play football by late July.
The Chiefs linebacker was the honorary pace car driver for Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, the first time he’s ever attended a race. He spent the afternoon touring the garage area and watching how a different set of pro athletes prepare for competition.
“I’m always appreciative of other professionals and what they do best. You never take it for granted what they can do,” he said. “You never lower your standard and say, ‘Oh, it’s not that hard.’ Because it’s a different world out there on the track.”
Johnson ruptured his Achilles tendon in a game against Oakland in December. The four-time Pro Bowl selection missed the final three regular-season games and the playoffs after surgery, but he said he’s on track to be on the field when the Chiefs report to training camp this summer.
Johnson ruptured his other Achilles tendon in 2014 and returned successfully.
“The Achilles is doing good. I’m still on track, just like a couple of years ago,” he said. “The goal is to be ready by camp. That’ll be one of those things I’ll be working my tail off this summer, go back to Texas after OTAs, get ready for camp. That’s the goal, to be ready for camp.”
Most expected the Chiefs to add a young linebacker early in the draft as insurance in case their 34-year-old stalwart has any setbacks. But when they didn’t address the position until the fifth round last month, it provided an indication they believe Johnson is right on track.
It also was an indication Chiefs general manager John Dorsey thinks Johnson has plenty left in the tank, perhaps even enough to play the final two seasons on his contract.
Johnson said he doesn’t plan to participate in the team’s optional workouts, other than to continue his rehabilitation. He doesn’t want to target the team’s mandatory minicamp, either, and risk a setback that might keep him from participating in training camp.
He’ll have to get his competitive fix behind the wheel of a pace car instead.
“It’s a little different atmosphere, and you have all the professionals — all the big-wigs — behind you. They’re going to be revving their engines and doing all that,” Johnson said. “But I do have a sense of pride for them. When I mess up it may cost us a play or a touchdown, but if they mess up it could cost them their life. So that’s a pretty cool deal.”
Asked who he’d most like to see behind the wheel of a stock car, Johnson said coach Andy Reid, because he would “go pretty slow” and that would put him at ease. But as for a race, Johnson said he’d pick flamboyant Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce to line up against on the track.
“I think he’d give me a pretty good run for my money,” Johnson said.
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