When Chris Johnson gets in the open field he typically runs away from defenders. His NFL-record six career touchdowns on gains of 80 yards or longer speaks to his ability in that regard.
Thus the Tennessee Titans running back is not terribly concerned with a new rule that involves contact between a ball carrier and a defender.
“Not my running style,” Johnson said following Thursday afternoon’s practice.
Wednesday night, though, others among the Titans backfield were plenty interested in what a group of officials in town for three days had to say. As part of their annual presentation on rules changes and points of emphasis, the officials discussed the controversial regulation that will penalize a ball carrier 15 yards if he strikes a defender with the crown of his helmet, provided the contact occurs outside the tackle box or more than three yards downfield.
“It was good to see how they’re going to call that rule and how they’re going to judge it,” free agent addition Shonn Greene said. “I don’t think anybody should change up their style or how they play because of it because you’re just taking away from yourself.
“I think guys are just going to be cautious with it and play their game.”
The Titans were 10th in the league in the league in the number of penalties called against them but managed to avoid too many big penalties. They were 18th in the number of yards marked off against them.
With an expressed goal to run the ball more often this season, though, the potential for an occasional 15 yards to be marked off against the offense seemingly has increased. The rule does not apply only to running backs but the general theory is that they are most likely to be the subject of such calls.
Fines or suspensions also are possible depending on the severity of the violation.
According to a study by the league’s competition committee, which recommended the rule, there were 11 examples of the infraction during a five-week period late last season. No player was guilty of it more than once.
“Those kind of hits, if you watch them on tape, someone’s going to get hurt, either the running back or the defensive guy trying to tackle with his head looking completely at the dirt is not safe, especially when they line each other up,” coach Mike Munchak said. “So, there’s a lot of requirements for that flag to come out.
“Now I don’t see that as a problem, the way they’re going to call it. I think guys might get fined after the fact because they’re not seeing it, if that’s going on. But, I don’t think there’s a lot of that going on. I think a lot has been made out of that. I don’t really see that affecting the game in a negative way.”
The officials will be in town and work practices through Friday. That means players and coaches will have opportunity to ask for interpretation as things happen on the practice field.
Already, though his running style is different from Johnson’s, Greene expressed roughly the same amount of concern for the new rule.
“I’m more of a shoulder pad, not a top-of-the-crown type [guy],” he said. “It’s more open field. It’s not so much in the tackle box or the trenches. So if you’re in the open field you just have to be cautious not to lead with your head.”
• Two running backs, Johnson and Jalen Parmele, sat out the day’s workout. Johnson rested his right ankle, which he said he rolled during Wednesday’s practice session.
“It’s nothing too serious,” Johnson said. “… I’ve done it a couple times. It’s a situation where if it was a game or something like that, I’d be able to play.”
• Linebacker Colin McCarthy sat out with a sore leg and underwent an MRI. The ranks at that position thinned later in the day when rookie Zaviar Gooden, a third-round pick out of Missouri, was helped to the locker room with an apparent ankle injury.