Happy. Not satisfied.
That pretty much summed up the mood of Tennessee Titans’ running back Chris Johnson on Saturday following the team’s first training camp workout.
“I wouldn’t say (I’m) satisfied,” he said. “But what can I do? I’m just here to play football.”
There were times in recent months when it seemed the 2009 Offensive Player of the Year might miss the start of camp, if not a significant portion of it. He set the stage for a holdout when he skipped all of the team’s offseason training and voluntary practice sessions.
Johnson wanted a new contract but ultimately agreed to report on time when the team reportedly agreed to advance him some of the incentive bonuses he already he earned in his existing deal.
“I wouldn’t say no hard feelings,” he said. “…I’m just happy to be back with my teammates and to go out here and get a practice under my belt, get back comfortable with being in the huddle and running the ball.”
He did not exactly bounce out of the locker room in an obvious display of enthusiasm. In fact, he was the last one to show and made it on to the practice field just in time for the start of the stretching period.
Coach Jeff Fisher said his All-Pro running back had good reason to be short on energy at 3:45 p.m., when practice started, and for the two and a half-hour session that followed.
“He got the times confused a little bit, so he ran his (conditioning) test a little closer to practice than most everybody else,” Fisher said. “So he was a little tired. But he’ll be fine (Sunday).”
Fisher noted that Johnson and linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who also skipped the entire offseason due to contract concerns, completed the test without issues. Both players also worked with the starters on their respective units.
“There was never a question in our minds whether they were coming to training camp or not,” wide receiver Nate Washington said. “It’s a business and it’s playing. It’s just unfortunate that they still have to get their business in right. We knew they would be here. … Guys who were missing aren’t new to the system.”
The business side of the NFL, however, was something different for Johnson, who entered the league in 2008 as a first-round draft pick (24th overall) out of East Carolina and seemingly breezed through the playing part of it in his first two seasons.
He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie when he rushed for 1,228 yards and last season became the sixth back in league history to top 2,000 when he finished with 2,006. Only Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James ever had more rushing yards through their first two years.
“It opened my eyes a lot,” Johnson said. “You see how serious this business is, and you see that part is not just playing on Sundays. It’s real serious on the other end.”
He added that he knew of no promises from the team to revisit – and possibly renegotiate – his contract following this season. He will have two years remaining on his deal following the 2010 campaign.
Yet he laid out a set of personal goals that – if met – potentially could net him a windfall. He said he would be happy to gain 2,500 yards rushing or at least to surpass Dickerson’s single-season NFL record of 2,105.
“We were definitely focused on this year, getting ready for this year and getting me back on the field,” Johnson said. “So we didn’t talk about any other time or years down the road.
“Of course it gives me more to prove. Every time I step out on the field I want to prove something. Right now I’m just looking at it as (no) back has rushed for 2,000 yards twice (in a career). That puts something on my shoulders that I can look forward to.”
• Six players, including veteran defensive players Tony Brown and David Thornton, opened training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. If healthy, the players can come off that list at any time during camp, but if they remain there at the start of the regular season, they must sit out at least the first six contests.
The other four were safety Nick Schommer, cornerback Jamar Love, rookie fullback Willie Rose and third-round draft choice Damian Williams, a wide receiver.
“They will be there for a day, two days, maybe a week,” Fisher said. “They’ll all be on kind of a day-to-day thing. But we just felt like we still had some work to do before we clear him for practice.”
• The only player expected to participate in the workout but did not was defensive end Derrick Morgan, the Titans’ first-round draft choice in April. Morgan still had not come to contract terms.
It is the fourth straight year the team’s first-round pick missed at least one training camp practice because he was unsigned.
• Free agent cornerback Tye Hill was held out of much of the workout because of a hamstring injury, which he sustained during a June workout. Veteran wide receiver Justin Gage walked off the field multiple times with what was described as an “intestinal” issue.
“(Hill) is strained a little bit,” Fisher said. “We’re going to evaluate him soon.”