Chris Johnson knows it’s possible. He’s done it once, after all.
So don’t tell the Tennessee Titans running back that another season with at least 2,000 rushing yards is out of the question even if no one ever has done it more than once.
“Every year my goal is to rush for 2,000 yards,” he said Monday. “I did it once so I really can’t go back and lower my standards to lower than that.”
It was the first time this offseason Johnson has addressed his individual goals for the season. In the wake of last season’s 6-10 mark he has been careful to talk only in terms of team.
Perhaps it is the fact that the preseason opener is three days away and his competitive juices are starting to flow. Maybe he feels emboldened by all of the offseason personnel moves, including an overhaul of the interior of the offensive line, and has more confidence about how things might go. Or maybe he just can’t help himself anymore.
No matter the reason, Johnson avoided any brash predictions or hyperbole about his place among the game’s all-time greatest backs and rather matter-of-factly acknowledged that the pursuit of a 2,000-yard rushing season remains important to him four years after he set the franchise record of 2,006 in 2009.
“I know what I can do, and I know I come in here every day and work hard,” he said. “You’re always going to have naysayers out there and people can say what they want to say but at the end of the day they just need something to talk about.”
Among active players, talk of 2,000 yards now includes Minnesota Vikings back Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 2,097 (the second-highest total in league history) last season.
As Johnson did after he topped 2,000, Peterson has talked about the possibility to get to 2,500 in a single season.
The closest anyone has come to a second 2,000-yard season was in 1986 when Eric Dickerson rushed for 1,821 two years after he set the NFL record of 2,105. Barry Sanders, who ran for 2,053 in 1997 actually has the highest second-best season among the seven members of the 2,000 club. Sanders rushed for 1,883 three years before he finally reached the landmark.
Outside of 2009, Johnson’s highest single-season total was 1,364 in 2010.
“When he came into the league and he was running for five or six yards a carry, everyone assumes that’s how easy it is,” coach Mike Munchak said. “But this league isn’t that way. He got his 2,000, it just gets harder when you do that. I think Peterson will find that out this year, that it’s a little harder to come back and do it again. No one’s ever done it again for a reason.”
Even so, Munchak is not about to discourage Johnson’s dream to become the first.
“I’m glad his expectations are high,” he said. “The higher, the better. We’re expecting to have a big year and we’ll see what happens. So if he runs the ball well, we’re going to have a good year. So we need to start off at the beginning where we can’t waist four or five weeks to get it going. We know that. So we need to come out of the box running well.”
It has taken Johnson until Week 4 in each of the last two seasons before he recorded his first 100-yard game. In both cases, in fact, he failed to rush for 100 yards total in the first three games combined — he had 98 in 2011 and a measly 45 in 2012.
So he might not be the first player people think of when they talk 2,000-yard rushers these days but he’s confident he’s still part of the conversation.
“They still know the type of player they’re going against,” Johnson said. “It’s just a situation [where] another guy did 2,000 yards last year so they’re going to talk about him a lot. … He did a good thing.
“… Every year I come in here I’m working hard. I want to take this team further than it has been.”
And to go farther than any 2,000-yard rusher ever has.