In took a lockout, but Chris Johnson showed up.
Famously absent throughout all of the 2010 offseason as part of his quest to get a raise, the Tennessee Titans running back joined a significant number of his teammates Wednesday at a time when none of them are getting paid.
Johnson was among the 40 Titans (and more than 50 players overall) at Father Ryan High School for the first of two days of collective workouts designed to strengthen team unity and prep for the coming season.
“It definitely surprised me to see CJ,” backup running back Javon Ringer said. “I have been talking to him every now and then during the summer, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting him to be here. But it’s good. I’m glad that he showed up. It really showed me that he’s still definitely committed to making sure this team is successful.”
Johnson rushed for 1,364 yards and a career-low 4.3-yards per carry average in 2010, one year after he became the sixth man in NFL history to rush for at least 2,000 in a season.
His desire for a long-term contract went unrealized but his 2010 salary was increased. The contract he signed after being drafted 24th overall in 2008 covers two more seasons.
He claimed that his presence at the players-only event was not an attempt to create any goodwill with franchise officials for when the lockout ends.
“I really didn't come out here to try to prove a point,” he said. “I came out to get a good workout in and to try to get the team better.”
Following the season, Johnson said he expected to work out on his own again until the start of training camp.
With the lockout now in its third month, though, he was one of a group that included this year’s first-round draft choice, quarterback Jake Locker, and most of the team’s defensive line, not to mention former Titans wide receiver Derrick Mason and Seattle’s Golden Tate, a former star at Pope John Paul II. The players met for roughly an hour before they took the field and then practiced for roughly 90 minutes with assistance from five members of the Father Ryan coaching staff.
Most notable among those who did not attend were starting tackles Michael Roos and David Stewart. Also absent were players whose contracts expired after last season, such as defensive end Jason Babin, quarterback Kerry Collins and tight end Bo Scaife.
“I stressed the importance of the team and everybody needing one another,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan, who led the effort to organize the players, said. “[Johnson] came out [Tuesday], just like every other guy came out, to be a part of the team and take steps forward toward where we want to go.”
Johnson made his personal goals — to rush for 2,500 yards and to be the highest-paid player in the league — well-known a year ago, and he spent the summer in relative seclusion in pursuit of them.
There’s not one of the Titans who does not want the team to improve upon last season’s 6-10 record. On this day, many of them — Johnson included — worked together toward that one goal.
“Cortland knows who to call,” second-year wide receiver Marc Mariani joked. “I don’t think you can call Chris. He has his people and you have to work that angle. To see him out … we have the pieces, and CJ, obviously is one of the best.
“For him to be out here shows a lot. I’m a younger guy, we have a few of the rookies [here] and for one of our greatest to be out here [Wednesday] says a lot. I think these two days are going to benefit us big-time in the future.”