One preseason game into his career as a Tennessee Titan and Chris Johnson is the talk of the town.
Johnson, the Titans’ No. 1 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, broke away from the pack and easily outraced the St. Louis Rams secondary on his way to a 66-yard touchdown run in the second quarter of Saturday night’s preseason opener.
Johnson’s jaunt was the center of attention, but far from the only highlight for the Titans in their 34-13 romp over the Rams in a game where Tennessee rushed for 340 yards and put 495 yards total offense.
It was Johnson, the first-round pick out of East Carolina, who stole the show with his highlight run.
“I started with my progression, my first read, and it led me to cut back to the backside, and the offensive line did a great job getting guys out of the way, and once they did that, I saw daylight,” Johnson said. “I just saw the end zone and knew I had to get there. Hopefully, it can be a regular occurrence for me and I can be a big part of this offense and help us go farther in the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl.”
The play gave the Titans’ a 17-3 lead with 4:48 to play in the first half, and gave hope to an offense in desperate need of playmakers.
“All of a sudden, bam, he just took off. It looked like he was shot out of a cannon,” tight end Alge Crumpler said. “It didn’t even look like he’s running that fast, but everybody else looks like they’re running for their life when he takes off.”
Added quarterback Kerry Collins, who handed the ball to Johnson, “The guy has got some serious ability. He hit that hole and from my vantage point, it looked like the safety the angle on him and he just blew right by him. He has some really serious talent.”
The player Johnson blew past wasn’t just any guy. It was safety Eric Bassey, who ran a 4.36 for scouts at his pro day.
Johnson’s run was part of a spectacular night for the Titans running backs and offensive line, one that included a 115-yard rushing night for fourth-string running back Quinton Ganther, who scored both the Titans’ second-half touchdowns.
Ganther’s first touchdown essentially put the game away in the third quarter, giving the Titans a 27-13 lead. On a third-and-1 from the Rams 45, Ganther followed his block off left tackle, then, seeing daylight, bounced outside and ran unscathed to the end zone.
“It was third-and-1, and my thing was I wanted to push it and get that one yard,” Ganther said. “When it’s short yardage, you want to come downhill and get that yard. So when I did that, everyone sucked in, and I went to the outside, and the linebacker was just sitting there. He thought I was down.”
Instead it was the Rams who were down and buried by a Titans’ offense that continued to get stronger as the game went on.
Beyond the success of the running game, the primary focus of the offense was what types of improvement quarterback Vince Young would make.
Young wasn’t on the field for long, playing two series and completing 3 of 6 passes for 17 yards. His highlight was a 35-yard scramble on the first series of the game that combined with the inside rushing of LenDale White carried the Titans to the 5-yard line.
From there, however the 2007 bugaboo of the red zone reared its head for Tennessee, and the drive stalled when Young overthrew Crumpler in the end zone, and White was stopped for no gain on fourth down.
Tennessee’s defense came to the rescue, however, with three straight strong plays that eventually wound up with Keith Bulluck intercepting Marc Bulger and rambling 13 yards for the game’s first score.
On first down, Jevon Kearse provided a nice flashback to his old days as a Titan, batting down Marc Bulger’s pass. Then, rookie Jason Jones, filling in for Tony Brown, stopped Brian Leonard for a three-yard loss on the next play.
Then on third down, Bulluck then plucked a ball that tipped off Leonard and rambled 13 yards for a quick 7-0 Titans lead at the 7:41 mark.
“I give a lot of credit to the secondary on that play,” Bulluck said. “They had great coverage, and the quarterback had to go to his third option. The ball was tipped, and I was able to pick it off and score.”
Even though it didn’t count in the standings, it was a strong beginning for what the Titans hope will be a strong 2008 season.
“All in all, the work that we put in through camp has carried over into the first preseason game. But again, it is just the first one and we have a lot of work yet to get ready for the opener.”
Count owner Bud Adams as impressed with the strong beginning.
“This whole team looked good,” Adams said in the locker room. “We played a lot of players out there today, and didn’t let. It could be a great year for us. I don’t want to talk about the Super Bowl, but we’ve never started this way.”
EARLY EXIT: Cornerback Nick Harper suffered a mild concussion on the first play from scrimmage, as he pursued ball carrier Brian Leonard, who was eventually stopped by David Thornton for a two-yard loss.
Reynaldo Hill replaced Harper at left cornerback, and the Titans finished a three-and-out on the open series of the game.
C’MON COACH: Third-string quarterback Ingle Martin was ruled out of bounds on a 12-yard scramble inside the one. Martin then came back to the huddle and gestured for Fisher to throw the challenge flag.
After pleading toward the sidelines, Fisher threw the challenge flag, but after review, the call stood giving Tennessee first-and-goal at the 1. After a false start penalty, Quinton Ganther eventually scored the touchdown for the Titans.
“I knew when I had jumped, I had crossed the plane,” Martin said. “I just wasn’t sure if my foot had stepped out, but they said I was in. The coaches thought I was in. It was one of those things where they just didn’t have the right angle or something. That’s part of it, but we scored two plays later.”
IMPRESSIVE: The play of Jason Jones has already caught the attention of Albert Haynesworth, who lined up beside him at defensive tackle Saturday night.
“He’s been flashing all camp,” Haynesworth said. “He’s ahead of any rookie I’ve ever seen, including myself, over the last six or seven years. He’s going to really help us this year.”
Jones said he still has room for improvement, though he was pleased with the way he played.
“I made a few plays early in the game, and gave me a little bit of confidence. I’m still far from where I need to be, though. But those plays really kind of settled me down,” said Jones, who got the start in place of Tony Brown, who was nursing a sore shoulder.
PENALTIES: Other than a 15-yard facemask penalty on Jamie Petrowski at the 9-yard line, Fisher was happy that the Titans were mostly mistake-free on penalties.
“We pretty much did what we set out to do tonight,” Fisher said. “We put emphasis on the penalties [six for 44 yards]. We wanted to keep the penalties down.