Joshua Huffman – Editor
Is this the season when Chris Johnson returns to his pre-lockout form? After starting the 2012-13 NFL season with 48 carries for 69 yards in four of his first five games, Johnson still finished with 276 carries for 1,243 yards. Throughout the preseason, Johnson has ran with much more purpose and taking what opposing defenses are giving him. He has eliminated many of his negative-yardage runs.
Johnson enters the 2013-14 season with three newcomers on the interior of the offensive line (Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack and Rob Turner), a more experienced and healthier quarterback, better blocking tight ends and a new running backs coach (Sylvester Croom). Dowell Loggains should focus on the ground game. This offense will rely on solid contributions from Shonn Greene and Johnson.
What can critics anticipate? Check out these stat lines from Johnson (first image) and LenDale White (second image). From 2008-09, White and Johnson complemented each other in the Titans’ backfield (click for enlarged images).
Ignore 2006-07. We’ll focus on the carries from when these two running backs were “Smash and Dash.” In 2008, Johnson and White split carries, 251-200. Johnson held an even larger advantage in 2009, 358-64. Each of those combinations are well over 400 carries.
What about Greene? Greene spent his first two seasons as a No. 2 running back behind Thomas Jones (2009) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2010). Jones and Greene split carries, 331-108. Tomlinson and Greene split carries, 219-185. Even with an increased focus on Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets passing offense, Tomlinson and Greene combined for 404 carries.
Expect Johnson and Greene to account for a combined 420-450 carries. Even if Greene got injured, Jackie Battle should pick up some slack. We’ll figure an average of 10 carries per game (160 carries) from the No. 2 running back.
That leaves 260-290 for Johnson. He’ll probably receive the higher end of that. With an improved offensive line, there’s no reason he can’t lean toward a five-yards-per-carry average. If Locker can play at a Kerry Collins or Vince Young level, Johnson has shown that he can consistently average well over four yards per carry for a season.
How much of an effect will Greene have on Johnson’s touchdown totals? In 2008, White earned the nickname “The Vulture” because most of his 15 touchdowns were a result of him finishing off drives that were largely constructed on Johnson’s legs. Johnson still had nine rushing touchdowns.
Don’t expect another 2,000-yard season. A second season with 1,500-plus yards? That’s possible, although Greene may get too many carries. Keep in mind that the Titans’ quarterback success will impact how opposing defensive coordinators can attack Johnson.
Rushing yards: 1,370 (4.8 avg)
Rushing touchdowns: 9
Receiving yards: 330
Receiving Touchdowns: 1