Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry returned to practice for the first time since training camp on Wednesday. Berry’s absence has been mysterious and controversial almost from the first day he was held from practice on August 12, so it’s not surprising that the news of his return to practice sucked up all the attention.
But Berry was not the only significant player who returned to practice on Wednesday. Chiefs starting center Mitch Morse was also on the practice field for the first time since he suffered a concussion in the Week 6 loss to the New England Patriots. Morse has been in the NFL-mandated concussion protocol ever since.
Morse’s concussion — from which he was slow to recover — is not the first he’s suffered with the Chiefs. He missed the Week 13 game against the Raiders in 2015 after sustaining a concussion against the Buffalo Bills in the previous week. He also missed the 2015 playoff games against the Houston Texans and the Patriots with a concussion he had against Oakland in the final game of the regular season.
In 2017, Morse missed five games with a foot injury he suffered in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles. He re-injured it in Week 12 against the New York Jets and was placed on injured reserve.
With Morse healthy going into the 2018 season, the Chiefs offensive line was seen as one of the most stable that Andy Reid has fielded for Kansas City, but Morse’s concussion was just one of a string of injuries that turned a unit that into a patchwork group that eventually had third-year player Austin Reiter filling in for Morse, and rookie Andrew Wylie starting in place of starting right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif.
While the offensive line has generally held its own since Week 5 — when the dominoes started falling with Durvernay-Tardif’s injury — it hasn’t been an ideal situation. The line gave up five sacks against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10. and three against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 11 — sacks that included two costly forced fumbles by Patrick Mahomes.
So Morse’s return to practice comes at an opportune moment, as the Chiefs prepare for the stretch run of the regular season — and the postseason beyond. Speaking to the press on Monday, Reid was noncommittal about whether Morse would play in Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders and said that the team had full confidence in Reiter. But Morse — unlike Berry — was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice.
Mahomes told reporters he will is glad to have Morse back.
“I feel very, very comfortable with Mitch,” he said. “Just building that relationship all through OTA’s and through the beginning of this season, it’s nice to have that back. I thought Austin Reiter did an awesome job of coming in and replacing him, as well as Jordan Devey when he was there. It’s going to be nice to have Mitch back and have that familiar relationship with him.”
That leaves Duvernay-Tardif, whom the Chiefs placed on injured reserve October 9. Under NFL rules, a player must be on injured reserve for at least eight weeks before being returned to practice status. After that, the team has three weeks to either place the player on the active roster or return them to injured reserve.
Under the rules, the earliest date Duvernay-Tardif could be designated for return to practice is December 4. It was only a few days ago, however, that he was able to “ditch the scooter” he has been using to keep weight off of his fractured fibula, so it’s in no way likely that he could be ready by next week. It’s possible — although not certain — that his rehab could go well enough that he could return prior to the playoffs.
But even then, the Chiefs might have other priorities. Rookie safety Armani Watts is also on injured reserve, and might also be ready for a return to action before the season is concluded. Since the Chiefs can only return two players from injured reserve over the course of the season — and Daniel Sorensen’s return already used up one of those chits — Reid has made it clear that the Chiefs will leave their options open.