Speedy 1st rounder impresses new LB
By: BY TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Lavelle Hawkins saw Chris Johnson’s speed up close at the Senior Bowl. Linebacker Stanford Keglar got a glimpse himself late in that game.
As Johnson zipped past him.
The Tennessee Titans put their smallest rookie class ever on the field last Friday as part of their three-day orientation, and Johnson was the player everyone wanted to watch run just to see how speedy the fastest player at the NFL Combine really is in person.
Keglar, one of Tennessee’s trio of fourth-round draft picks, said he tried to cover Johnson.
“He has amazing speed. I can probably say he’s the fastest guy I ever lined up against,” said Keglar, a linebacker who played at Purdue. “So … great to say that guy’s on my team.”
The Titans didn’t have their top pick do sprints or line up for a 40-yard dash. But Johnson managed to show off his legs in a one-on-one passing drill as he blew past Keglar and caught a pass in stride down the left sideline.
Tennessee has been heavily criticized since taking Johnson, a running back, with its top pick overall instead of a wide receiver.
The thought had been an offense that had only nine touchdowns passing in 2007 had to help Vince Young by giving him a receiver as a new target.
They did draft Hawkins out of California in the fourth round, and he will have a chance to work his way into the rotation immediately. But Johnson, who was timed running the 40 in 4.24 seconds at the combine, may be the fastest player ever on this roster.
Coach Jeff Fisher has never had a player this fast on offense in his previous 13 full seasons with this franchise.
“We drafted him because we know it’s going to change the complexity of our offense. It’s going to require people to do different things, and you’re going to get mismatches. You’re going to create matchups that you like. When you free release him out of the backfield, you’re less likely to have someone blitzing to keep him in,” Fisher said.
Johnson didn’t have much opportunity to show off how fast he is in the second session of the day with reporters watching. He dropped a couple quick passes from running backs coach Earnest Byner early but made that nice catch later.
Hawkins, already being compared to receiver Derrick Mason, has been timed running 4.4 seconds in the 40. He said he can’t compare to Johnson, who he remembers thinking at the Senior Bowl in January was too fast.
Fisher said Johnson isn’t just fast running straight.
“It’s useful speed. It’s combined with lateral quickness. When you say you’ve got a guy with track speed playing football, some guys are track guys trying to play. They don’t have lateral quickness and change of direction. That’s what he has: excellent acceleration,” the coach said.
The Titans had only 16 players on the field and 17 on hand for this orientation with running back Rafael Little able only to watch as he recovers from a torn ACL. Fisher said that’s the smallest rookie class they’ve had because they have a good roster already filled with experience.
They won’t be back until May 18, while the veterans hit the field today and Friday for on-field practices.
Fisher said new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger had been looking forward to working with the rookies after spending the past few weeks with the veterans in trying to help an offense that struggled to find the end zone in 2007.
“He’s pleased with what he has to work with,” Fisher said.
Notes: With the rookies on the field, Titans’ numerology started anew. Chris Johnson wore No. 29, worn by Chris Brown the past few seasons. That’s not what Johnson wants. “I explained this is the National Football League, and they’re not all available. Some can be purchased for a price. You just have to wait and see what comes available,” Fisher said. … Tight end Craig Stevens was given No. 88, while receiver Lavelle Hawkins wore No. 87 — the number last worn by David Givens, Tyrone Calico and Kevin Dyson.