Last year wasn’t a total bust for the Tennessee Titans. Sure, the season was miserable, the quarterback threw a tantrum and the coach eventually quit.
Prior to all that, though, running back Chris Johnson proved he’s trustworthy. He stayed away from the team’s training facility all offseason, guaranteed he would be in shape when the time was right and then showed up fit enough to handle the ball more than 350 times and score a dozen touchdowns.
At the time, Johnson’s absence was big news. It dominated much of the talk about the Titans throughout the spring and summer of 2010.
It takes on a whole different perspective given the current NFL labor strife, which has led to a lockout, multiple court filings and the total absence of anything actually football-related taking place.
Typically at this time of year, teams are weeks into their offseason training programs. They not only provide their players with supervised workouts — to help motivate those players, they actually pay them a little extra to show up and run, lift weights and whatever else.
Right now, all those players are on their own. Minus the financial incentive, not to mention the structured environment the locker room setting provides, there’s no way to know for sure what the majority of them are up to these days.
It’s a situation ripe for disaster.
A year ago, conditioning issues forced the Titans to limit wide receiver Kenny Britt’s practice participation in May and June, yet he still ended up injured during the season. Last year’s first-round draft pick Derrick Morgan admittedly got caught up in all the pre- and post-draft happenings and did not prepare as he should have. His rookie season was cut short by injury.
How can anyone know how many players are doing all they can to stay fit?
Imagine being Mike Munchak, the first-year Titans head coach. He no doubt has a certain level of trust and understanding with the offensive linemen he used to coach, but now he has another 40 or 50 players under his watch. About them, he can only wonder.
Imagine being Jerry Gray or Chris Palmer, the team’s new coordinators. They can watch film on the players they eventually will coach. It’s well-known that television adds 10 pounds, but Gray and Palmer must be fearful of what some of them will look like in person.
Imagine being general manager Mike Reinfeldt. Sooner or later he’s going to try to unload quarterback Vince Young, whose record of offseason — or in-season, for that matter — effort is not exactly sterling. Young comes with certain baggage as it is; imagine how much harder it would be to move him if he also has major love handles.
Now imagine that Johnson shows up — whenever things do get resolved — ready to go, yet half the players in the league are at least a step slow because they didn’t have the discipline to work as hard as necessary while on their own. He’s already the fastest guy in the league. Given the advantage of experience when it comes to being on his own throughout the offseason, Johnson could find himself running away with some more league honors and records in the fall.
It’s not a stretch. He has a proven track record of proper preparation on his own. Not many others around the league can say the same thing, but they all have the opportunity.
Based on experience, CJ affords the Titans at least one measure of certainty at a time when there are so many unknowns.