Back in 2009, his second year in the NFL, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson dazzled fans with his elite speed and athleticism en route to 2,006 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He had 2,509 yards from scrimmage that season and that is the most in NFL history. In 2009, Johnson rushed for an incredible 5.6 yards per carry average and was named the AP Offensive Player of the Year.
Johnson has since struggled to regain the magic from that 2009 season. He is still one of, if not the fastest backs in the league, but he simply has not been very productive since that incredible season. In 2010, Johnson rushed for 1,364 with 11 touchdowns and 4.3 YPC. 2011 was Johnson’s worst season as he rushed for 1,047 yards, only four touchdowns and 4.0 YPC. In 2012, Johnson looked a little bit better with 1,243 rushing yards, six touchdowns and 4.5 YPC. He still looks fast on the field and Johnson is still good for a long touchdown run every now and then, but he is not breaking them off with regularity like in 2009.
The recent struggles of Johnson may not all be his fault. In 2009, Johnson did a lot of his damage with Vince Young under center. Running backs generally have an easier time finding space with a running quarterback like Young. Defenses have to key on mobile quarterbacks and this allows for less attention to be paid to the running back. Since Young turned out to be a bust, Matt Hasselbeck has taken most the snaps for the Titans the past few seasons. While Hasselbeck has had a nice career, he is by no means a mobile quarterback. Last season, Jake Locker started 11 games for the Titans. Locker, who is a very mobile quarterback, struggled last season. But with a mobile quarterback once again under center, Johnson looked rejuvenated.
The offensive line in Tennessee the past few seasons has been average at best. They struggled opening up holes for Johnson to run through. The Titans addressed the offensive line this offseason signing guard Andy Levitre as a free agent and drafting Chance Warmack with the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft. Both of these players are great run blockers and should help improve the Titans’ run game tremendously.
Johnson showed flashes of his old self last season and has looked fantastic in the preseason. The talent is still there, he just needs to get the open space to work with. Johnson is still one of the fastest players in the league; if he gets in the open field, nobody is catching him. With the natural progression of Locker and the offensive line upgrades that the Titans made, I am expecting big things out of Johnson this season. He may not match his numbers from 2009, but I see a big bounce back season coming. Only time will tell, but the stars are aligning for the talented back to prove that his 2009 season was not a fluke.