Players and coaches often struggle to find a comparison when talking about who Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson reminds them of.
That’s because Johnson’s electrifying speed and ability to cut in full stride make him not only hard to stop, but hard to find much of anyone who compares in his style.
But for comparison’s sake, the sheer numbers speak the most boldly when talking about who Johnson compares most favorably to.
The rushing numbers being put up by Johnson, when analyzed and dissected, are so staggering that if projected over the course of a 16-game season, would be legendary.
Currently, Johnson has 1,242 yards rushing, already the 11th best total in franchise history if he didn’t gain another yard in the final six games.
Consider this: Johnson’s 1,242 yards is more than NFL single-season rushing record holder Eric Dickerson had through 10 games when he set the single-season rushing mark of 2,105 yards back in 1984 – also in his second season in the league.
Through 10 games, Dickerson had 1,171 yards rushing, then closed with a fury, gaining 100 yards six weeks in a row, and finishing with 98 in the regular-season finale to reach 2,105.
“He’s putting up great numbers. He’s off to a great start, but it’s still very early in his career,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “It’s way too soon to talk about him with those great players that have come and gone, but he’s off to a great start, and his production speaks for itself.”
Johnson’s numbers are also putting him in elite company when it comes to other lesser-known statistical accomplishments. He needs just 55 yards on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals to break Barry Sanders’ mark of most rushing yards in a single month. Sanders had 701 yards on the ground in five games in November 1997. Johnson is already at 646.
Also, on Sunday, Johnson could become only the third player in NFL history to have six consecutive games with at least 125 yards rushing. He joined an exclusive list of eight players last week with five straight games of at least 125 yards. And to boot, Johnson joined Jim Brown in 1958 as the only players to average better than five yards per carry in each of those games with 125 yards.
Johnson seems to appreciate the loftiness of the accomplishments he has already attained and those he is approaching.
“It makes you feel good. It makes you want to keep working hard and breaking their records,” Johnson said. “Basically, if you’re being mentioned with those guys, you’re doing the right thing.”
Johnson is trying to become only the sixth back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards, and needs to average 126.3 yards per game over the final six games to do that.
He is confident he can reach that goal.
“I’m sure I can, if I continue doing the right things, as far as during the week working out and stuff like that and practicing hard and following my keys and staying focus, then I feel like I can keep it going,” Johnson said.
Johnson realizes what a special season he is on the verge of with his rushing talents and putting up numbers that are in the company of the NFL’s all-time elite running backs.
“Those are the legends of the game, and C.J. is just in his second year. Those guys put in years of work to reach those goals, and he’s just in his second year,” fullback Ahmard Hall said. “You start to put him in those categories of guys that are legends, guys that are in the Hall of Fame, and that’s huge. I was thinking about that the other day. When they say he’s on pace to do this, or on pace to do that, it’ just amazing to see it, and I’m on the same team. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type guy.”
Center Kevin Mawae is in his 16th NFL season and he hasn’t seen anyone do the things Johnson is capable of doing.
“They’re gaudy numbers to say the least. I think people underestimated him during the draft, and our guys, the scouts and coaches, saw something special in him,” Mawae said. “He’s definitely proving himself. You thought it was going to be maybe a gimmick thing or something like that, but we’re seeing who Chris really is. The great thing is the more times you give him the ball, the more big plays he’s going to make.”
Mawae compared him to a faster version of Curtis Martin, who was his teammate with the New York Jets for eight years.
“I’ve seen Curtis do some pretty special things with the football, but Curtis didn’t have the speed that Chris does. I think their instincts are similar to one another,” Mawae said. “The one thing that Chris has that Curtis didn’t is the breakaway speed. Curtis made his living off the 5 and 10-yarders and every now and then pop one for 30 or 40. Whereas, Chris Johnson, he takes a 5 or 10-yarder and turns it into an 80 or 90. It’s fun playing with him.”
Johnson’s workload keeps increasing and he shows no signs of wearing down, even as he is averaging 26 carries a game the past four weeks.
“We knew he could do it. We knew he could take it last year,” Fisher said. “We’re just in a situation right now where he’s much more comfortable, and every time he touches it, he could go. So you might as well take advantage of it. But there’s no sign of him wearing down.”
On Monday night, ESPN analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said he believed Johnson still has a chance to break Dickerson’s magical total of 2,105.
Johnson believes it is possible as well.
“Someone told me he said that, but I’m not focusing on it right now,” Johnson said. “Right now, I’m just focused on winning and to just keep having good games. Hopefully, when I get close enough to the record, then I’ll focus more on it.”
Keep your chin up
Vince Young has gotten his second chance as the Titans starting quarterback and has made the most of it, helping the team to four straight wins.
Meanwhile, Matt Leinart, the quarterback the Titans bypassed in 2006 to choose Young, is still backing up Kurt Warner with the Arizona Cardinals.
Young and Leinart became friends in the aftermath of the 2006 Rose Bowl and the whole draft process, and Young said he still believes Leinart will be fine once his chance comes again to play.
“I haven’t talked to him in a little while, but my assistant talks to his agent and I always pass a message to him, just to talk a little bit. I’m pretty sure he’s OK. I’m going to be pretty happy to see him on Sunday,” Young said.
Asked what he would tell the former Southern Cal star, Young said, “The same thing we’ve been talking to each other, just staying patient and staying humble and work on your craft. And when that time comes, be ready. I know he is, because he’s a pro. I know it’s frustrating for him, but I know he’s taking care of his responsibilities.”
Linebacker Colin Allred (hamstring), defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (ankle), receiver Justin Gage (back) and linebacker David Thornton (hip) did not practice on Wednesday.
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan (hamstring) was rested on Wednesday after limited participation.