As the Tennessee Titans’ first-round pick last weekend, Chris Johnson enters the NFL with plenty of expectations and hype. Being the 24th overall pick and the fastest player at the NFL Combine will do that. Johnson will make his Titans debut today as part of the rookie orientation, along with the rest of the draft class of 2008. Terry McCormick, Titans beat writer for The City Paper caught up with Johnson for a Q & A about him and his expectations as a professional football player. Their conversation:
The City Paper: What roles do you see yourself playing early on as you join the Titans to begin your NFL career?
Chris Johnson: Really, I’m just going in and trying to learn the entire playbook and what kind of role they want me to do. I just feel like if I can just get situated what they want me to do, then I’ll know what I really can do. As far as myself, I just come in and do what I can do to help our offense. Of course, with my return ability, I can help out with that.
TCP: Some people had you projected beyond the first round. Others, like the Titans obviously, had you in the first round. Did it surprise you at all to be a first-round pick and has the soaked in yet?
CJ: A little bit, because through the whole process and the mock drafts, they really didn’t have me as a first-round pick. But through this process, my agent Joel Segal, had been telling me that I’m a late round one pick. So when the draft came around, it happened. So I said, “I did my job, and he did his job.”
TCP: Before the Titans began looking at you at the Combine and your visit, how much did you know about the franchise and its players?
CJ: I looked at them a lot, because I watched Vince Young and LenDale White. The year that Vince Young and LenDale White were coming out, I watched them a lot. I actually watched them a lot, so I pretty much know their offense revolved around them.
TCP: Are you looking forward to being teammates with them and getting to know them?
CJ: I’m looking forward to getting an opportunity to meet both of those guys and coming in and being able to play with those guys.
TCP: What do you say to people who point out that your numbers (nearly 3,000 all-purpose yards) were put up against mostly non-BCS competition in Conference USA?
CJ: I just like to say when something is being said like that, just go and look at guys like Brian Westbrook and LaDainian Tomlinson. LaDainian Tomlinson played in the Conference USA [at Texas Christian], the same conference I’m coming out of. Brian Westbrook played in a lesser conference [Division I-AA at Villanova]. The only different thing about that is with the bigger schools, a lot of times the players coming out of bigger schools are overrated, because they’re at a bigger school and stuff like that. A lot of times, there are some better players at smaller schools and lesser-known schools, but they’re not on ESPN and stuff like that. Of course, people are going to underrate us, and if they [an NFL team] picks us high, then the franchise’s fans, if they don’t know about you, they’re going to think it’s not a good pick. But if I was on ESPN every week, who knows, I probably could have been a top-five or top-10 pick. But I’m very honored to be a Tennessee Titan right now.
TCP: On the other side of that, you’re compared to guys like Westbrook, Reggie Bush or Devin Hester. Are those comparisons valid?
CJ: I like those comparisons, because of the stuff Devin Hester has done since he’s been in the league; he’s done a lot of great thing. So has Brian Westbrook. Reggie Bush didn’t have as good a year last year, and a lot of people are trying to say he’s overrated and he’s not as good they think he is. But if you go back and look at his rookie year and all the things that he did, he played a good role. He’s still a good player; he just didn’t have a real good year last year.
TCP: What are your goals for this year beyond just trying to come in and learn the offense and contribute? Have you set any goals for yourself?
CJ: I just set goals like coming in and contributing and helping this team get to the Super Bowl. They were a playoff team. I want to come in here and help them get to the Super Bowl. I’ve said, if I can contribute and help my team get to a Super Bowl, then all my goals should fall into place.
TCP: How happy would you be as Rookie of the Year?
CJ: I would like to be that. Then again, I feel if I can contribute and help us get to the Super Bowl, that could help me get Rookie of the Year. When I’m sitting down and writing out my goals or whatever, I don’t write down each individual goals. I just look at it like I can help this team get to a Super Bowl.
TCP: Have you met any of your new teammates yet?
CJ: I know Lavelle Hawkins, through this process. We ended up being on the same Senior Bowl team and from seeing him at visits and stuff like that. When I got picked, then when it came around and he got picked, he gave me a call and said, “What’s up, teammate?” I know him through this process. That’s probably about the only one I know.
TCP: Are you looking forward to playing with Lavelle and both of you helping the Titans?
CJ: I’m looking forward to playing with him. I watched him in college and I thought he was a great player. He was one of the best receivers in the country. He went in the fourth round, but he’s still a really great player.