Either the burden to produce increased for Chris Johnson on Wednesday. Or his load was lightened.
The Tennessee Titans signed free agent running back Shonn Greene to a three-year, $10 million deal with the idea that he can work in tandem with Johnson the way he did with Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson and Bilal Powell during his four seasons with the New York Jets.
“The type of back we wanted is a guy like Shonn that has been in a system … where he’s used to two backs carrying the ball and there may be times when he gets more opportunity one week than the next,” coach Mike Munchak said. “C.J. is our main back and will continue to be. … It depends on what kind of game is going on, the flow of the game and what’s happening and what the plan is.”
Also Wednesday, the Titans signed defensive tackle Sammie Hill (three years, $11.3 million), who spent his first four NFL seasons with the Detroit Lions, and linebacker Moise Fokou, who has played with Indianapolis and Philadelphia in a four-year career.
Greene rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons and scored 14 of his 18 career touchdowns in 2011 and 2012. He played in 61 of 64 regular-season games in addition to six playoff contests.
The most telling statistic, though, is that he converted all 10 third-and-1 situations in which he carried the ball last season. He was one of seven players who were 100 percent in that situation but none of the others had more than six attempts.
“I love the way he runs,” Munchak said. “It’s downhill. It’s second-and-6, second-and-4 or second-and-5 when you look up after a first-down run. That’s what was missing in our offense. So we felt that was a great addition.
“… We needed a heavy running back to complement what we had. We’ve had that in the past.”
For the first two years of his career, Johnson was paired with LenDale White, who was 6-foot-1, 235 pounds. Johnson averaged 4.9 and 5.6 yards per carry in 2008 and 2009, respectively. In the three seasons since, he has not averaged better than 4.5 yards per carry.
In 2008, the two split carries almost equally. Johnson ran it 251 times for 1,228 yards. White carried it 200 times for 773 yards and finished third in the NFL with 15 rushing touchdowns. When Johnson rushed for more than 2,000 yards (on 351 carries) the next season, White ran it just 64 times.
“I think we both just have to know our role,” Greene said. “[Munchak] has explained that to me. Then you get the hot hand at times, where whoever has the hot hand is going to go. I know for me, this is C.J.’s backfield and I’m just here to help and to help this team get wins. I’m fine with that.”
The Titans have tried — unsuccessfully — in recent years to limit Johnson’s workload with Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper. Ringer, a fifth-round pick in 2009, was a similar back who was not offered a new contract this year. Harper, a fourth-round pick in 2011, is bigger but has not carved out a role for himself as a power back.
Greene was a third-round pick by the Jets in 2009.
“I think they’re great competition for each other when you have two veterans together,” Munchak said. “Rather than have C.J. with a rookie or a young guy, we wanted to get somebody in here who was a veteran, who was the type of runner that Shonn is.”
A runner who is decidedly different than C.J.
“I think [Johnson is] a phenomenal player,” Greene said. “He’s very explosive and very talented. He can take off whenever. I think just with our different styles we can keep defenses on their toes. You have to prepare for him, with his speed and getting to the outside. Then coming with me and the power and downhill stuff. I think it just gives defenses a lot to worry about.”