When Chris Johnson was added to the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster a little more than a week ago, his offseason itinerary took on a familiar look.
It was the third time in his three-year career that the Tennessee Titans running back earned a trip to the NFL’s annual all-star contest (this year’s will take place 6 p.m. Sunday; see related story below), although one of those three years it was held in Miami instead of its traditional Honolulu locale.
Already, Johnson had decided he would frequent the Titans’ training facility or take part in the team’s offseason training program — and his belated Pro Bowl invitation (he was named a replacement for injured Jacksonville back Maurice Jones-Drew) further validated those plans.
“I feel like I’ll continue doing the same things,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that if something works, never switch it up.
“So until I have a bad season, I won’t switch up any of the things I have been doing.”
Johnson has relied on his own training regimen at his home in Florida rather than take part in the daily conditioning and organized team activities, which the Titans, like every other NFL team, conduct from March through June.
It was tough to argue with the results before this season.
Johnson is the first Titan since Jevon Kearse (1999-2001) to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons in the league and the franchise’s first running back since Eddie George (1997-2000) to go at least three years in a row. He was the league’s Offensive MVP in 2009 when he rushed for a league-leading 2,006 yards and had a team-high 50 receptions.
That production dipped somewhat in 2010, along with the Titans’ fortunes. He rushed for 1,364 yards, which still ranked third in the AFC and fourth in the NFL, but his yards per carry was a career-low 4.3. He was the team’s leading receiver for the second straight season with 44, but his yards per catch (5.6) also were a career low.
To Johnson, there is nothing in those numbers to indicate that his approach to the offseason needs to change.
“I’m good with my numbers,” he said. “We have a good team. We have a good offense. Sometimes we go in a slump, we just have to be more consistent. … We have to be consistent and execute our plays as an offense. When we’re executing our plays as an offense, we’re putting up points and getting victories.”
He revealed after the season that a hamstring injury hampered his efforts during a six-week stretch in the second half of the season. He occasionally missed practices during that time but never sat out a game.
“I can say for about six weeks I was banged up pretty bad,” Johnson said. “But it was something … being a top player in this league, you have to play with things like that. If I feel like I can go out there and play, I’m going to play with it. I feel like I made it through, and the last three games it wasn’t bothering me anymore.”
Johnson’s absence from training camp was one of the top storylines last summer, and when he finally did come to town he made more headlines when he set a goal of 2,500 rushing yards for the season.
He fell well short but never backed away from it.
“I wouldn’t say it wasn’t realistic,” he said. “No matter what I say, people are going to put eight or nine in the box and make me the focus of the offense anyway. That’s still my goal. Hopefully I can do that one of these years.”
And maybe one of these years, Johnson will alter his offseason travel plans.
Mariani stands out among Titans’ Pro-Bowlers
To borrow a line from Sesame Street: One of these Pro-Bowlers is not like the others. But that doesn’t mean that Marc Mariani doesn’t belong.
Mariani, the AFC’s return specialist for Sunday’s game in Honolulu, is the only one of the Tennessee Titans’ four Pro-Bowlers this season who was not a first-round draft pick.
He wasn’t even close, in fact. He was a seventh-round selection, the 220th overall pick last April.
That’s in stark contrast to the other three: running back Chris Johnson (24th overall, 2008), safety Michael Griffin (19th overall, 2007) and defensive end Jason Babin (27th overall, 2004 by Houston).
“Rookies will make the Pro Bowl, but [Mariani] had a lot of help this year from all those guys that were blocking for him,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “Coach [Alan] Lowry schemed things up well, and he took advantage of his opportunities.”
Mariani is hardly the first late-rounder drafted by the Titans to earn an invitation to the NFL’s annual all-star contest. He simply is the fastest to do so.
Cortland Finnegan was a seventh-round pick in 2006 who made his first — and only — Pro Bowl appearance after his third year. Safety Blaine Bishop was an eighth-round choice in 1993, although at 214th overall went six spots sooner than Mariani, who made the first of his four Pro Bowl appearances following his third season as well.
The last Titans’ return man to make it was Derrick Mason, a fourth-round pick in 1997, who finally made it in 2000.
During the Titans era, the franchise only sent three other rookies to the Pro Bowl: Jevon Kearse (1999), Vince Young (2006) and Johnson (2008). All of them were first-round picks.
“I’m honored because it’s an award that’s voted on by coaches and players,” Mariani said. “My expectations are high for myself and my dreams are big, but I could never have dreamed it.
“It’s fun to go out and just prove yourself. It was a fun year.”
For him, it’s not quite finished.