After Chris Johnson cracked the 2,000 yard single-season rushing mark back in 2009, he felt the need to run his mouth the way most superstar athletes do. And why not? He had just done something that only five other players in the history of the entire league had done. And we’re talking about some of the all-time greats like Barry Sanders, O.J. Simpson and Eric Dickerson.
But after a huge contract dispute that got very nasty and very public with the media, Johnson struggled to make a game-changing impact in 2011 that saw him rush for only 1,047 yard and saw his yards per carry drop to a career low 4.0 per attempt. You would think after taking a beating all season by fans and media that he wasn’t worth what Tennessee was paying him that he’d be out to silence his critics in 2012. Instead, he’s talking about how he could be Usain Bolt in a 40 yard dash.
At just 27 years of age, it’d be hard to believe that Johnson is on the decline. He did take quite a pounding in his 2,000 yard rushing season that saw him carry the ball a league-leading 358 times and then a staggering 316 times the following year. But we aren’t talking about Ricky Williams or Earl Campbell abuse here. Tennessee still threw the ball occasionally.
So what is to blame? First of all, Johnson needs to learn that now is the time to stop talking and get focused. If his yards per carry emulates last year’s output, he could be looking for a new team sooner rather than later. As far as personnel goes, they took plenty of blame from fans last year. When a running back with the talent Johnson has struggles, the fingers usually get pointed at the offensive line in front of him and Tennessee had their share of problems there.
It’s hard to say that a guy who has run for 2,400 plus yards the past two years on the decline. I mean, you couldn’t really expect him to rush for 2,000 every year, could you?
Adding a new offense installed by Chris Palmer is a good start to Johnson reclaiming dominance on the field. Palmer was with the Houston Oilers when they ran the Run n’ Shoot offense in the early 90′s that saw the team put up some yardage. They aren’t said to be adopting the old scheme, but there will be some elements of it in the repertoire this season.
Johnson, who has never lacked for a soundbite, talked up the scheme to local media earlier this week.
“If they throw the ball well, it can help me because it will back some of those guys out of the box. I feel like that’s not a bad thing for me. I feel like it’s a good thing. I feel like everything is going in the right direction. I’m out here working a lot and trying to get better every day. I felt like I went through a lot of things last year. I didn’t have training camp and showed up a couple of days before the first game.”
That sounds pretty logical for his talents, and showing up to camp on time this year will be even more beneficial with the new scheme. On the second year of the $53 million deal he got last year, the pressure will be on him even more to improve and succeed.
With a better scheme fit and upgrades in personnel, Johnson should take advantage of a good situation. That means referring to yourself as “CJ2k” less and earning away the “CJ4YPC” nickname he earned last season.