Speedy first choice in a learning mode
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — The Tennessee Titans raved over Chris Johnson’s speed when they grabbed the running back in the first round for an offense needing playmakers and help getting into the end zone.
Well, the rookie’s going to need some time to learn the whole playbook.
The rookies didn’t join the veterans until Monday, and their first on-field session wasn’t open to reporters until Thursday. Johnson, best known for now as the fastest guy at the NFL Combine, didn’t have much opportunity to show off that speed. He lined up at wide receiver and caught some passes, while also lining up in the backfield as the third running back in the rotation.
Vince Young, the quarterback needing the extra help, said he feels that Johnson has been playing him by not being as fast on the field as the rookie really is.
“I say he’s been getting a feel of the defense, the speed of the game. When he gets a little more comfortable, I feel like he’s going to take off a little bit more,” Young said. “But from the looks of it right now, his jog is fast too though.”
The rookies and veterans first worked together on the field Tuesday, and coach Jeff Fisher said they had several chances to see Johnson’s speed that day.
“He really didn’t get an opportunity today. He’s picking more offense up and most of the things he had to do today were in a short area,” Fisher said.
Johnson was timed with a speed of 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine, and he had enough success at East Carolina to prove he knows how to use that dash on the football field. He averaged 227.69 yards per game last season, and he finished with 6,993 all-purpose yards as the 24th player in Division I-ECS history to top 6,000 all-purpose yards in a career.
The rookie, still wearing No. 29 and occupying the locker of the running back he replaced in Chris Brown, said he hasn’t had a chance to see if he’s the fastest player on the roster. Teammates are starting to call him Speedy, though.
“I ran a couple flies (on patterns). I beat everybody on that,” Johnson said.
Veteran linebacker David Thornton has seen enough to consider Johnson an outstanding athlete with tremendous speed while offer a note of caution.
“He hasn’t been hit by guys in the NFL yet. Hopefully, he’ll be able to adjust and come in and contribute right away,” Thornton said.
Fisher pulled Johnson over during a special teams drill to help catch punts along with Chris Davis, Brandon Jones and Chris Carr. The fastest player the Titans have had on offense since moving to Tennessee also has been busy lining up in various spots in some creative schemes from offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger.
The Titans scored only nine touchdowns passing last year despite having the NFL’s fifth-best rushing offense.
Thornton expects Johnson will be used to create lots of mismatches, especially with linebackers.
“I looked at him on field a couple times. He blew right past a lot of defenders. He definitely can be some mismatches for older guys and younger guys too,” he said.
The pecking order at running back hasn’t changed, not with LenDale White having run for 1,110 yards last season and starting all 16 games. Their 45th pick overall in 2006 is the starter followed by Chris Henry, their 50th pick overall in 2007. The Titans did meet Thursday with veteran Ron Dayne, who played at Houston last year, and Kevin Jones, most recently with Detroit.
Fisher said the meetings are part of the Titans’ work to keep a list of available players updated.
White has been accepting of Johnson into the offense, pointing out how teams like Jacksonville rely on two running backs. He has shared carries with first Travis Henry, then Brown through his first two seasons.
The running known as Thunder to speedy Reggie Bush’s Lightning in college at Southern California is ready to change places, though.
White said he didn’t know if he could beat Johnson in a foot race.
“I told everybody I’m Lightning, he’s Thunder. You never know,” White said.
Published in The Messenger 5.23.08