Chiefs

Chiefs sign linebacker Orie Lemon to replace Nico Johnson on practice squad

Former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nico Johnson.
Former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Nico Johnson. The Kansas City Star

Nico Johnson’s stint with the Chiefs has come to an end.

Johnson, a fourth-round pick in 2013, was signed off the Chiefs’ practice squad by the Cincinnati Bengals on Wednesday.

“We wish him the best of luck there,” coach Andy Reid said. “It’s an opportunity for him to make their roster and have an opportunity to play.”

To replace Johnson, the Chiefs signed veteran linebacker Orie Lemon, 27, to the practice squad.

Lemon, who is listed at 6 feet 1 and 242 pounds, is a fourth-year pro who has recorded five tackles in eight career games. He signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State in 2011 and was one of the Chiefs’ final cuts a year ago.

“I thought Orie was a smart kid and moved around pretty good,” Reid said.

The move brings a disappointing end to Johnson’s 18-month tenure with the Chiefs. He was initially expected to compete with veteran Akeem Jordan last year for the starting inside linebacker spot next to Derrick Johnson, but a high ankle sprain bothered him since the preseason, and Jordan won the job outright.

What’s more, third-year pro James-Michael Johnson — a fourth-round pick by Cleveland in 2012 who was claimed off waivers by the Chiefs before the regular-season opener — seemed to overtake him on the depth chart at inside linebacker and also logged far more special-teams snaps, the latter of which is a significant way that backups can hold on to a precious spot on the 53-man roster.

This trend continue throughout this year. When starters Joe Mays and Derrick Johnson suffered significant injuries, it was Josh Mauga, who signed on the eve of training camp, and James-Michael Johnson who stepped in and took their first-team reps.

And when the Chiefs needed to add an inside linebacker to back those two up, they opted to promote Jerry Franklin, who had just been added to the practice squad a week before, instead of Nico Johnson.

Reid declined to go into detail about why Johnson could never seem to catch on.

“Just by numbers, it didn’t work out,” Reid said. “I’d probably leave it at that. I think he’s a good football player, and he’ll have a chance to make that team there and have a chance to play.”

Chiefs defensive end Damion Square, who played at Alabama with Johnson, said he was happy to see his former teammate get a chance to earn playing time on Sundays.

“I gave him a call and he was packing his bags and stuff,” Square said. “I just told him that what happened here, to the best of his ability, make sure it never happens again.”

Square is also close with Lemon. The two were former teammates at Yates High School in Houston.

“It’s always good when you go to a place where you know a couple of the guys,” Lemon said. “I was here last preseason so I know a couple of the guys also, but me and Damion Square, we’re from the same neighborhood, grew up together, kind of. He’s just two years younger than me.”

Lemon, who was one of the Cowboys’ final cuts in training camp, is optimistic about his chances of helping the Chiefs at some point, even though Mauga, James-Michael Johnson and Franklin are ahead of him on the depth chart at inside line.

“I’m just happy to be back playing football,” Lemon said. “I feel like they brought me here for a reason, so there’s always a chance.”

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TerezPaylor.

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