On the one hand, running back would appear to be one of the strongest positions on the Tennessee Titans’ roster.
After all, the team features LenDale White, who is coming off a 1,110-yard season a year ago behind a strong offensive line and just added first-round pick Chris Johnson as a change-of-pace speed back to the equation.
On the other hand, though, there are enough concerns about the position depth-wise that the Titans entertained journeymen veterans Ron Dayne and Kevin Jones as potential contingency plans, should something happen to White for any period of time.
2. Chris Johnson
3. Chris Henry
4. Quinton Ganther
5. Omar Cuff
2. Casey Cramer
3. Jeremy Cain
White recently revealed that he played all of 2007 with a torn meniscus in his left knee, something that might help explain the lack of burst he showed at times last year. That situation had previously been blamed almost entirely on White’s conditioning and weight.
White looks better and healthier than at almost any point last year, and that should give Tennessee reason for optimism as it relates to the running game.
Perhaps an even bigger reason for optimism is the presence of Johnson, whose 4.24 speed in the 40 at the NFL Combine made him the fastest player available in the draft. The Titans will use him in a variety of ways, including split wide as a receiver, in the pony formation with White and even on some returns.
Fullback Hall is healthy again after missing time last year with a broken forearm, and could find himself with an expanded role in Mike Heimerdinger’s offense as well.
The Titans spent a second-round pick on Henry last season, and though they say they are pleased with his progress this offseason, he could have a difficult time making the active list on Sunday barring his finding a key role on special teams or an injury to White or Johnson. As a rookie, Henry often had difficulty finding the hole and reading his blocks. And though it was for emergency purposes only, it wasn’t a ringing endorsement for Henry that veteran backs like Dayne and Jones were being looked at as insurance in the event that White went down and couldn’t carry the load.
BIGGEST CAMP BATTLE
Considering that White, Johnson, Hall and Henry should be locks to make the 53-man roster, the biggest battle of camp could spread across several positions as the remainder of the running back and fullback candidates show their worth on special teams in hopes of enticing the Titans to keep a fifth player on the team.
Cramer, who doubles as a tight end, has shown value on special teams in making the squad the past two seasons.
Cain, signed as a long-snapper replacement for injured Ken Amato in mid-season last year, is a fill-in fullback, whose roster chance is probably tied more to Amato’s health than anything else.
Ganther has spent the bulk of two seasons on the practice squad and gets one final chance to try for a job, while Cuff, an undrafted free agent, faces the longest odds of the group.
ON THE SPOT
The Titans need Johnson to do what first-round picks should do — make an impact. His explosiveness is needed for an offense that was moribund in 2007. The Titans need Johnson to touch the football 10 to 15 times a game as either a running back or a receiver out of the backfield to maximize his talents and give the offense a much-needed dimension of speed and shiftiness.