The Tennessee Titans got a taste of what Chris Johnson could do for their offense during his rookie season of 2008.
And last year’s first-round pick did not disappoint, rushing for 1,228 yards and nine touchdowns, along with 43 receptions for 260 more yards.
This off-season, the Titans are looking for Johnson to do even more and become a more complete player in the process.
“I think he’s doing what people thought Reggie Bush was going to do,” fullback Ahmard Hall said of Johnson. “He can do it all. He just has to put all the small pieces together, and he can be one of the best to ever play.”
The key, according to offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, is ensuring that Johnson devotes more of himself to such tasks this off-season in readying for 2009.
“There’s some stuff we can do with him. It just depends on if C.J. works at it,” Heimerdinger said. “We need C.J. to work at it and get conscientious about it. We ran a lot of screens [last year]. Probably we’d have to work him out wide a little bit and in other places. That depends on C.J. It’s a matter of C.J. working at it.”
Johnson said that call belongs to the offensive coordinator to determine how he is used, and that he simply wants to be more involved this year than he was a year ago, whether it’s rushing or passing.
“That’s his decision. He’s got to put the plays in. I can’t put my own plays in. Whatever they throw at me, I’m ready,” Johnson said. “I can do all that. I did a couple of things, not a whole lot. … I’m curious to see what kinds of things they’ve got to get the ball in my hands more this year. I tell ‘Dinger that I want the ball more.”
Johnson figures that if he can get at least 20 touches a game between rushing and receiving he should be fine.
“The offense they had was running the ball and it was successful. Since it was successful, there ain’t no need to change a whole lot around, but everything should be better,” Johnson said. “Ever how many [touches] they want me to have, it don’t matter. I guess any time I get 20-plus touches, I should have a good game.”
Simply making the second-year jump in terms of understanding should help Johnson’s progress, says Coach Jeff Fisher.
“You’re assuming he’s going to improve from his first year to his second, and if he improves like most of them do, then, doing the same things we asked of him, he should be more productive next year,” Fisher said.
Teammates like the idea of Johnson doing more this season, and say that with his explosive 4.24 speed that he should be capable of even more of a workload in ’09.
“I think at times we were good getting him the ball out of the backfield and throwing to him, and I think we can improve on ways to get him the ball in the passing game,” quarterback Kerry Collins said. “And I think he can improve on it. He can improve on his route running and understanding of what we’re trying to get done in the passing game. He seems to be well aware. He’s a smart guy, and he’s picking up on the fact that we want to use him in a lot of different ways.”
Receiver Justin Gage sees using Johnson in the passing game and in more creative formations as a plus as well — especially if it keeps Tennessee’s most dynamic weapon in the ballgame more.
“I think we’ll start him off in the passing game, doing some stuff with him and LenDale [White] in the game at the same time,” Gage said. “When you’ve got a guy like that in your offense, you’ve got to find ways to keep him on the field.”