Chris Johnson talks like a man with extensive experience.
“I’ve been here long enough so I know sometimes things take time in order to get where they [need] to be,” he said.
Still, you have to go back before the fourth-year running back entered the NFL — way back, in fact — to find the last time the Tennessee Titans run game set such a sluggish pace through the first two weeks of a season.
Things did not exactly get off on the right foot Wednesday either as preparations began in earnest for Sunday’s game with the Denver Broncos (noon, LP Field). Johnson did not participate in the day’s workout and was listed on the league’s official injury report as having a rib issue.
“I was just a little sore,” he said. “… I feel like I had a very productive mental day [Wednesday].”
With 117 rushing yards on 42 attempts, the Titans are last in the AFC in both rushing yards and yards per carry (2.8). Overall, they are 30th in rushing offense and tied for 29th in yards per carry.
That is the franchise’s least productive start in terms of running the ball in more than two decades. To be exact, the yards are the fewest through two games since 1990 — the first year of the run-and-shoot offense under then-coach Jack Pardee.
Seven times since then, including each of the past four seasons, Tennessee averaged better than 117 rushing yards in each of its first two games.
“Watching the film from the first two weeks I feel there were a lot of mistakes I had, the offensive line had, the entire offense had as far as the running [game],” Johnson said. “So there’s things we need to work on and get better.
“ … I’m very eager to get out there in open space and start to break [through] the linemen and the linebackers and be able to work against the secondary. … I know the offensive linemen I’m running behind are very experienced and good offensive linemen. I’ve worked with them a long time so I know it’s going to come together.”
Maybe. For this week, though, his coaches were concerned that the Pro Bowl running back might be falling apart.
Both head coach Mike Munchak and running backs coach Jim Skipper met with Johnson in recent days to discuss the situation and to assess his state of mind.
“They just wanted to really know how I was feeling and things like that,” Johnson said. “[I] just let them know I was good. It was really just making sure I wasn’t frustrated and getting down on myself and being frustrated with my teammates and things like that.
“I let them know I wasn’t frustrated at all.”
With 33 of the team’s 42 carries, Johnson has endured the majority of the struggles and his 2.3-yard average is even worse than the team’s. The longest of his carries — nine yards — is equal to the one rush quarterback Matt Hasselbeck registered in those contests.
There are 16 other backs around the league currently with more than 30 rushes, and 15 of those average at least one yard per carry more than Johnson. San Francisco’s Frank Gore, at 2.5, is the only other one who is close.
Johnson is the only one of the top 12 in carries who has not scored a rushing touchdown.
“There’s no doubt [Johnson] wants to make big plays,” Munchak said. “There’s no doubt he wants to help us win. The good thing is he’s not selfish in the fact that [if] we are winning he’s happy. I think … some guys want the stats more than they want the win. I think he wants to win, No. 1, and that’s most important.
“He knows his contributions are going to have to be big for us to continue to win. We’ll just keep working at having them happen.”
Until they do, Johnson will have to keep a lid on his frustration for as long as opposing defenses keep him bottled up.
“I don’t see him as being outwardly frustrated during the game,” Munchak said. “You don’t see him throwing the ball, you don’t see him acting up on the sidelines, which — especially skill position people — you see some guys do. So he’s handling it well.”
Like an old pro, you might say.