Chris Johnson will complete his first full off-season program with the Titans on Thursday, and the fifth-year running back believes the extra work with his teammates and coaches is already paying dividends.
Johnson has attended scheduled OTAs and mandatory minicamps in prior years, but passed on the off-season running and lifting program, instead working out on his own in Orlando or finding a trainer in the city he was traveling in.
A year ago, Johnson was in the middle of the NFL lockout and his subsequent holdout that finally ended just 10 days before Tennessee’s regular season opener at Jacksonville. When he returned to Baptist Sports Park, he found himself on foreign soil with a new head coach, new offensive coordinator, new running backs coach, new quarterbacks and new system with little time to prepare.
Now with a full off-season in place, Johnson has looked more explosive and confident in practice and feels ready to return to the level that earned him the nickname “CJ2K” in 2009 when he became only the sixth running back in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.
His goals are simple — to be the best running back in the league, while helping the Titans return to the playoffs and ultimately make the Super Bowl.
“I think (having the full off-season) will be beneficial and make a big difference,” Johnson told reporters after Wednesday’s minicamp practice. “It’s a thing where I’ve gotten to work with my offensive line and feel them out, and they’ve gotten to feel me out. Just being on the same page, and then having (offensive coordinator) Chris Palmer there to go over plays and put in things for me to see what I like to run and see what things I’m doing good at…I feel like this will be beneficial and a whole different story this year.”
Johnson said there were days last off-season when he woke up frustrated not knowing when he would be back with his teammates and opted not to work out. As a result, Johnson said he wasn’t in top shape when he finally returned to the team and ultimately had to work his way back into shape throughout the season.
“I was confident last year, but it didn’t work out right,” Johnson admitted. “I wasn’t in shape and the blocking wasn’t the same. There were just a lot of different things that factored into it, but this year I feel more confident physically, and being able to work together with my offensive line has been beneficial, so I feel it should be okay.”
Johnson said he wants to play at 200 pounds – nine more than last season and three more than his 197-pound frame at the 2008 Scouting Combine. That should give him the extra power to handle as many carries as Titans coaches are willing to give him in 2012.
“Being a running back and a play-maker, you always want the ball,” he said. “You never like hearing that your touches are being reduced. It’s a thing where the better you’re doing during the year, the more carries you will get.”
And Johnson will do his part to stay in top shape over the next five weeks until the start of training camp.
“I’ll pretty much do all the same things – make sure I’m in shape when camp starts,” he said. “Wherever I go I’m going to continue running and lifting. The only difference is I won’t be doing ball drills and working out with my teammates as far as the running game. Basically I’ll just stay in shape.”
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