Early walk-throughs have Chris Johnson excited about the opportunity to run the football this fall.
“Basically we’re learning a new playbook right now and there’s a lot of different things going in,” the Tennessee Titans running back said. “It’s something we should have a good time doing.
“… Last year … we basically were trying to turn into like a passing team. Coming in this year [we know] it’s going to be a run-first offense.”
Tuesday was the Titans’ second day in Phase II of the offseason training schedule. That’s when players can be on the field with coaches and go through football-related activities minus any head-to-head competition.
Early in the offseason general manager Ruston Webster and coach Mike Munchak overhauled the offensive personnel through free agency and the draft. Most notably, they signed free agent guard Andy Levitre and used two picks in the first four rounds of the draft on guard Chance Warmack (first round) center Brian Scwenke (fourth round).
“We want to be able to run the ball when we want to and when we need to,” first-year offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “Obviously, the commitment that [Webster] and [Munchak] made to rebuilding the interior of the offensive line is a big part of that.”
Not to be overlooked was the addition of veteran running back Shonn Greene, who topped 1,000 yards rushing each of the last two years with the New York Jets. He also was a league-best 10-for-10 last season in third-and-1 conversion attempts.
The immediate question was whether Greene will take carries away from Johnson, one of seven backs ever to rush for more than 2,000 in an NFL season, or an extra body is needed to handle the additional number of handoffs.
“Obviously, CJ is the franchise running back and I’ll be the first to say that,” Loggains said. “Shonn will be a change-of-pace back who is going to come in. There will be games when Shonn is rolling that he may get 15-20 carries. And there may be a game when CJ gets rolling and he carries the rock 30 times. We’re not going to put a number on that but we’re going to try to use both their strengths as much as possible.”
Johnson already has a clear idea of how he expects things to work.
“Everybody needs a backup running back,” he said. “I’m sure they’ve seen a lot of good things in [Greene] and hopefully he can come in and help this team.”
Interestingly, each carried the ball exactly 276 times last season for teams that failed to make the playoffs. Johnson gained 1,243 yards and scored six touchdowns. Greene rushed for 1,063 and eight touchdowns.
Greene had just two 100-yard rushing games to Johnson’s five and his longest run was 36 yards. However, he did produce 52 first downs on runs, which were seven more than Johnson whose big-play ability did not translate into consistent production.
“I feel like the things we have done have given us the chance to take the next step,” Johnson said. “We still have a lot of work to do. Everything looks good on paper. We still have to go out there and work hard and prove it on Sundays.”
The last time Tennessee made the playoffs (2008) it averaged 137.4 rushing yards per contest. Four of the last six times the franchise made the postseason, beginning in 1999, it averaged better than 120 rushing yards.
In 2012 the Titans averaged 23.6 rushes and just over 105 yards per contest and were last in the league in time of possession. Also, they had more than 20 running plays six times in 11 games with Chris Palmer as offensive coordinator. After Palmer was fired and Loggains was promoted they topped 20 in four of the final five games.
“The head coach and general manager around here think that only three things happen when you throw the football and two of them are bad,” Loggains said.
For Johnson, that’s good news.
“Since I’ve been here … if I’m getting 10-12 carries a game I can’t really do nothing with that,” he said. “But [Loggains] has had a whole offseason to get the playbook right and we have a lot of good weapons. So I think we’re doing a good job.”