The Curious Case of Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson burst on the NFL scene in 2008 as the first round pick of the Tennessee Titans (#24 overall) out of East Carolina. The speedy running back quickly made his mark in the league by rushing for over 1,200 yards and 9 touchdowns while adding 43 receptions and one more score for a more-than-impressive rookie year. He followed that with a monster sophomore campaign going over 2,000 yards rushing and scoring 16 total touchdowns. Three years and no major injuries later, he's on pace for 152 carries and 168 yards rushing. So, what the hell happened?
For starters CJ2K, as he was dubbed after his 2009 season, had a very good 2010 by anyone's standards, scoring 12 tds while seeing his rushing average dip over a yard per carry to a still-repectable 4.3. Then came the holdout prior to last season. Johnson felt he had "out-performed his contract," an expression that should now be used in all walks of life. ("Honey, I feel like I've out-performed our marital contract, so I'd suggest you renegotiate my monthly budget or I'm going to start sleeping with your golfing buddies.") In any event, he missed training camp, finally got his money, and proceeded to rush for career lows in yards, average, and touchdowns. There were many theories about the drop off. Some said he wasn't on the same page with teammates after sitting out. Others said that he had gotten his money and no longer cared. A handful thought he was running scared, and not in a Billy Crystal/Gregory Hines kinda way. And still others said that the Tennessee Titans simply sucked. So, who was right?
The answer is: Does it really matter? It's only been two games but Chris Johnson is off to the worst start of his career. He's now calling out teammates through the press, which is never a good thing. Maybe the line and offensive scheme absolutely stink, but if they truly do why not try something like moving CJ to kick or punt return duties in addition to his regular rushing load? Sure, he's a high price tag guy, but at this point what do you have to lose? If the offensive line really is the problem then let's see him on special teams. He could get hurt, but maybe running upfield with abandon is just what he needs to get him kick-started. It's not like the Titans are going to bring him back anyway if his current pace continues. He's made a considerable amount of guaranteed money, an estimated $21 million by the start of this season, so he too could be playing for his next team and contract.
If none of this works out, hey, at least you tried something. Right now it really seems like Tennessee and Chris Johnson aren't helping themselves by keeping things status quo. Stay tuned.