The “will Chris Johnson ever be good again?” and “has CJ lost it?” questions are all warranted after last year’s shockingly down year. At this point it’s becoming redundant and a bit annoying, but when a player of Chris Johnson’s caliber holds out for almost all of training camp, gets a huge payday, and turns in the worst season of his career, there will be rumblings.
“Did he mail it in because of the money?” “Has he lost his vision and lateral agility?” All questions that are to be pondered months after he finished a season with running yardage akin to a very average running back.
Two years removed from a historic 2010 season in which CJ became CJ2K and only the 6th player to reach the 2,000 running yards plateau, Johnson has some explaining to do. He can try to plead his case with words, like in this interview with Jim Rome. Johnson mentions the general thoughts as to why he had a bad year. He came in late, not in football shape, had a new offense and blocking scheme, and other factors such as the offensive line’s ineptitude. But when you get superstar money, you have to find ways to earn it.
There were holes for Johnson to run through along the course of the season, albeit not very many. These holes close in split-seconds in the NFL, and with Johnson not being in sync with his offensive line, as well as unfamiliar with the new schemes placed by offensive coordinator Chris Palmer, we witnessed missed opportunities and a hole bunch of goose egg performances by our running game. Others were to blame, but when you’re the star of a professional team the problems rest on your shoulders.
Therein lies what I believe was last year’s problem.
Of course, Johnson not being in the football way was one of the biggest reasons for his “collapse”. Another problem may have been that he just thought he needed to carry the team. Considered one of the best running backs in the league coming into last season, CJ2K was the face of the Tennessee Titans. He eventually got his wish by receiving a ludicrous contract, by running back standards. The contract was mostly deserved and it’s hard to blame the front office for caving.
Once Johnson had the money and his season began, the eyes were on him. Defenses keyed on him, fans waited for the big run to be popped off, and analysts scrutinized his every move to determine whether the money was put in the right place. At times, CJ was just trying to do too much. He was looking for the home run. He couldn’t find it. The problem was that he didn’t need to. Our improved passing game only needed a slight push from the ground game, so Johnson just needed to take what was given to him. He might’ve thought that if he only took what was given, he wasn’t doing what his contract demanded of him.
This year will be different. Johnson will have much less pressure on him. He’ll be much less inclined to live up to the money. To the high expectations. He’s just going to be himself, playing hard and working hard. The offensive line should be somewhat better, as if it’s possible to be as putrid as last year. His head will be clear, there will be more holes, and he will take advantage of his opportunities.
He has nothing to lose.
CBS Sports has CJ on their list of top comeback player candidates for next season. Johnson has done everything this offseason to believe he will come back from one of the lowest points of his football career. He’s showed up to voluntary OTAs and worked out with the team in Tennessee, instead of with his trainer in Orlando.
It’s hard to imagine that he will ever be CJ2K again. All we need is for him to be CJ. I have a strong feeling that he won’t disappoint us.