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The Guest Spot: What's In Store For Chris Johnson in 2012?

Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE

This edition of The Guest Spot comes courtesy of Patrick Ward. You can catch him on Twitter @JPatrickWard

What’s In Store For Chris Johnson In 2012?

One of the biggest question marks for the Tennessee Titans in 2012 has to be Chris Johnson. Can CJ2K find his step again and get back to being the game changer that he was just a couple of seasons ago? I believe many fans and the media have written Johnson off. This is a “what have you done for me lately” league and honestly, Johnson hasn’t done much for the Titans or anyone else lately. After an extended hold out, the Titans finally gave Johnson the superstar money ($53.5 million) he felt that he deserved after being only the sixth player in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season. There were many who criticized the Titans for giving that kind of money to a running back in an era where the position’s value is declining rapidly. His performance in 2011 did nothing to help his case. It is hard to defend a player who rolled up less than 25 yards in five games. There are running backs sitting on practice squads that could do better than that with half the snaps. Johnson has given the media and fans more than enough ammunition over the past year, and the ball is in his court to prove the critics wrong.

Those who believe Johnson is just an average running back that had one special season only need to look at the company Johnson has on the list of rushers who have cracked 2,000 yards. It is unknown at this point if Johnson deserves to be mentioned in the same conversation as O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson and Barry Sanders, but it takes a special player to do what he did. This is a make or break season for Johnson. In 2012, either Johnson will solidify his position as a one year wonder that the Titans overpaid for, or he will elevate himself back to being the game changing superstar he seems to think that he is. I believe 2012 will be the year Johnson shuts the critics up. The 2012 version of Chris Johnson is going to make believers out of all of us and here is why.

Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

Chris Johnson has finally decided to be a team player. For the first time since becoming a Titan, Johnson is in Nashville working out with his teammates. He decided that in a team sport like football, it might be helpful to actually be around your team. Crazy huh? His music career never really took off, and it is a tragedy that future generations will never get to hear his groundbreaking single “Act on Deck” playing at LP every Sunday. [Editor's note: you, however, can peep it here] The failed rapper has decided that perhaps his feet are faster than his flow, so it is back to football for CJ. Chris Johnson seems focused on getting back to where he wants to be as an athlete. He had a lengthy hold out last season that I know contributed to his decline. The Titans had a new coaching staff for the first time since arriving in Tennessee, and our star running back was nowhere to be found. A hold out, plus a nearly entire new coaching staff is tough to get comfortable with in just a couple of weeks. One positive from last year is how Chris Johnson’s numbers steadily improved throughout the season as he became more comfortable in the system and on the field. With an entire season in Munchak’s system and participation in the off season workouts, I am optimistic that Johnson will improve significantly this season.

Another reason I believe Johnson will be outstanding in 2012 is the supposed quarterback competition the Titans will be having in training camp this year. I say “supposed” because I truly believe Jake Locker will be our starting quarterback come week one no matter what the coaching staff says. For the sake of my argument right now, we will just assume Locker is the guy. Locker is a highly mobile quarterback that will rely on his legs this year more often than he should. Some of Johnson’s best runs came when defenses faced the threat of Vince Young rolling out on play action and bootlegs. Johnson could find himself in a similar situation this season with Jake Locker under center. Defenses will be forced to respect Locker’s scrambling ability, forcing defensive players to stay at home. This should take some of the pressure of Johnson. Fewer players pursing Johnson is a good thing for everyone, considering he is often one missed tackle or block away from taking it to the house. In 2012, the combination of Chris Johnson & Jake Locker could mean a return to form for CJ2K. We could pile on Vince Young and his inability to read a grade school defense, and go on about how Locker is already the superior quarterback compared to Young, but why state the obvious. Locker will be the threat on the ground and in the air that gives CJ the room he needs to find the open field.

The Titans surprised people in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Coming off a season where our pass rush was so poor even I would have felt fearless standing in the pocket for the opposing team, many had Tennessee going after a defensive end in round one. Instead the Titans pulled the trigger on the play making receiver Kendall Wright from Baylor. After my initial confusion wore off, I came to like the pick because it became clear that the coaching staff and front office were shifting the focus to the offensive side of the ball. This is an offensive league and the Titans seem to finally be understanding that. The days of “Fisher ball” are far behind us. We have a young quarterback in Locker that is being surrounded by weapons to help him succeed. These weapons will have the same effect on the production of Chris Johnson. Teams will find it tough to load up the box with Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington and Jared Cook on the field. With Locker under center and our skill positions finally being a legitimate threat, Johnson should have even more chances to make big plays in 2012.

Now for my own personal 2012 Chris Johnson prediction: I’m going to go ahead and say that CJ tops 1,500 yards this year on the ground. If he could also roll up around 500 yards receiving, it would be an extremely productive season. 1,500 is not a crazy high number, and it might not even be enough to lead the league in rushing, but it will be a huge improvement. It would be his highest rushing total since going for 2,006 in 09. I expect Cj to wow us with a few 50+ yard sprints to the end zone this year, and the haters will start to die down. I for one am a CJ2K supporter. He has been a pleasure to watch and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by him ever since he took the field. There are few players in the league that take your breath away nearly every time they touch the ball. As Titans fans, we came to realize that CJ was usually one missed tackle away from scoring six. My CJ fan hood has come a long way since I hurled a half empty can of PBR at my flat screen in anger when the Titans took an average running back from East Carolina in the first round of the draft. He made me eat my words once before, and I have a feeling he is about to do the same to everyone else in 2012.

And if he doesn’t… well we can just all blame Eugene Amano.

Patrick Ward

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