CJ fits in quickly, but Titans still short a backfield piece

Wednesday, September 7, 2011 at 8:18pm

Chris Johnson is an attendance and — in a lot of ways — in sync with the Tennessee Titans offense.

“I’m very pleased,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “He’s a guy who’s a true professional. … He’s up to speed.”

The question remains as to whether or not the record-setting running back is up to the task of handling a full workload in Week 1 without the benefit of training camp or preseason work.

It is possible the Titans will have to figure that out the hard way when they face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday (noon, WTVF-TV Ch. 5).

“Conditioning-wise, you have to be concerned about that,” Palmer added. “The other guys have been going for over a month.”

Not all of the other guys.

Backup Javon Ringer missed the final three preseason games with an injury and watched Wednesday’s workout in a T-shirt and shorts.

Thus, even with Johnson’s training camp holdout ended and his contract demands resolved, the Titans still do not have their full complement of running backs. That with just two full practices remaining before the start of the regular season.

Coaches hoped to have the option to limit Johnson’s workload through the early portion of the season in the wake of his contract holdout.

The best way to do that would be to rely on Ringer, a third-year veteran who has appeared in 22 games. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 51 attempts, which was better than Johnson (4.3 per carry) last season.

In his lone 2011 preseason action, Ringer carried just three times for 17 yards — a 5.7-yards per carry average.

Rookie Jamie Harper will fill that role if Ringer is not ready.

The team might also consider a transaction to add another back to the active roster given their fourth option, fullback Ahmard Hall, is suspended for the first four weeks of the regular season. Herb Donaldson, Tennessee’s third-leading rusher during the preseason, is on the practice squad.

Then again, all of that will be rendered meaningless if Johnson shows he can carry it 27 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns as he did in the 2010 opener, a 38-13 victory over Oakland.

“I think he has done as well as you could have expected him to having three practices,” coach Mike Munchak said. “The good thing is that in his side of the ball, there hasn’t been much change as far as what he is asked to do, so I think he feels very comfortable mentally that way.

“… He is excited. He is confident He has always been all of those things, but now it’s just a matter of going out there and hitting a couple plays. Having some success early I think will [be] a big plus for all of us.”

Jacksonville has its own uncertainty surrounding the run game given that Maurice Jones-Drew had offseason knee surgery and — by design — his preseason work was limited to fewer than three series in the final contest.

He has publicly expressed complete confidence in his health and fitness and expects nothing less from his counterpart this week.

“I have been talking to people he has been working out with, Mike Sims-Walker, and I know he is ready,” Jacksonville's Jones-Drew said. “I’m happy for him.  He deserved that contract. He is one of the top players in this league, playmakers, and that is what this league is about.

“People want to talk about quarterbacks and all those things but you can’t mention the Tennessee Titans without Chris Johnson.”

Similarly, the Titans might not be in a position to run the ball this week without Johnson, although the Jaguars might like to see them try.

“I think Jacksonville will know where he is on every play,” Palmer said. “… The quality player that he is, he draws a lot of attention.”