It appears Donnie Avery is poised to make his return Sunday night against Denver.
Avery, who has missed the Chiefs’ last seven games with a core muscle injury, is listed as probable on the Chiefs’ final injury report heading into the game (7:30 Sunday night on NBC), which means it’s a virtual certainty he will play.
Avery’s return will boost a receiving corps that has not produced big numbers and hasn’t recorded a receiving touchdown. No. 1 target Dwayne Bowe leads the team with 44 catches and 551 yards, and Avery — who caught 23 passes for 156 yards before his injury — has the most catches and yards of any other receiver, despite missing nearly two months after undergoing groin surgery.
That said, Avery’s return comes right on time, given the fact the Chiefs’ next leading receiver, Junior Hemingway, is out for the game because of a concussion, leaving only Jason Avant — who was signed late last week — rookie Albert Wilson and first-year receiver Frankie Hammond as the other receiving options.
With Hemingway — the team’s top slot receiver — out, the 31-year-old Avant could figure into the mix. He caught 21 passes for 201 yards in 11 games with the Carolina Panthers before he was released early last week, and he joined the Chiefs largely because of his history with Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who drafted him in the fourth round of the 2006 draft, when Reid was Philadelphia’s coach.
“He’s been working like crazy, trying to learn (the playbook),” Reid said. “Most of it, I think, he’s got a pretty good grasp on. So he’ll be in a position where he’s ready to play. We’ll just have to see how things go from there, as far as playtime.”
Avant has said he feels most comfortable operating out of the slot, though he said it remains to be seen how he’ll be used Sunday.
“We’ll see, don’t know,” Avant said. “I kind of know what I’m doing. (Receivers) coach (David) Culley has been doing a great job with me, so I’m pretty confident that I’ll know what to do.”
Avant said it was nice to have a familiarity with Reid’s offense.
“Some of the routes called, some of the personnel used,” Avant said. “He likes to mix up things.”
Avery isn’t the only nicked-up Chief who is on track to play. Cornerback Jamell Fleming, who has missed the last four games because of a hamstring injury, is also listed as probable for the game.
If Fleming plays, that that will allow rookie Phillip Gaines to shift down to the slot in nickel formations. He might be needed to do that because nickel starter Chris Owens is questionable because of a knee injury and Ron Parker is moving back to safety to replace Eric Berry.
Tight end Anthony Fasano (tight end), punter Dustin Colquitt (calf), linebacker Tamba Hali (knee), tackle Donald Stephenson (shoulder) and cornerback Sean Smith (groin) are all listed as probable and will likely play.
Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (calf) is listed as questionable but is expected to play.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he recently checked in with safety Eric Berry, who is back home in Atlanta after the team discovered a mass in his chest that is feared to be lymphoma.
“Eric’s doing good,” Reid said with a grin. “He went over to his grandmother’s yesterday and ate. So before they give him any him any other treatment, he made sure he took care of business yesterday.”
Reid said Berry has undergone a number of tests, and the club is just waiting to hear an official diagnosis.
“They’ve done the studies, they’ve got to go through and analyze whatever information they’ve gained,” Reid said. “You’ll know, though. We’re not going to hide it from you.”
Run defense a priority
After getting gashed by the Oakland Raiders for 179 yards on 30 carries, the Chiefs say run defense is a priority entering their game against Denver.
“We were definitely upset because that wasn’t us,” Vickerson said. “The good thing about this league is that it’s a week-to-week league. You can come back and get that bad taste out of your mouth by knocking the run game out this week.”
Last week, the Broncos rushed for 201 yards on 35 carries in a 39-36 win over the Miami Dolphins.