|Jeff Fisher would like you to look right here and forget everything you saw in 2011. (US PRESSWIRE)|
In 2011, Chris Johnson had the worst season of his four-year career. The timing was particularly awkward because he held out of training camp for a new contract. The Titans obliged -- a four-year, $53 million deal -- and Johnson proceeded to bumble his way through the first nine weeks, managing only 302 rushing yards, before a second-half surge saw him finish at 1,047.
That's 300 fewer yards than he gained in 2010 and almost a 1,000 yards fewer than he ran for in 2009. In addition to Tennessee, the other losers in all this were NFL running backs like Ray Rice and Matt Forte who are now looking for new deals. Both were franchised this spring and both have yet to sign their tender offers (and both have very little leverage in how this all plays out).
But former Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, the man responsible for bringing Johnson to the Titans, has some encouraging words. Namely: expect the old CJ2K in '12.
“I didn't watch all that much of him last year, but that kind of thing doesn't happen overnight,” Fisher, now the Rams' head coach, said Friday according to the Tennessean. "C.J. is still a tremendously talented running back and he's still got a lot ahead of him.”
So what happened last season, Fisher's first apart from the team since Johnson was drafted in '08?
“You had coaching changes, you had philosophical changes, you had a lockout and you had no offseason,” Fisher said. “So you just delete last year and move on with high expectations.”
That's fine, but using that logic, the Titans should also be able to delete the terms of Johnson's contract for 2011, too. That ain't happening, although it does provide us an opportunity to bring up our favorite NFL truism: Running backs are fungible and organizations shouldn't devote a lot of salary-cap space to paying them.
That said, there are reasons to think C.J. will be better in 2012. For starters: He set the bar pretty low; it would be hard to put up worse numbers. Johnson's also had the benefit of training with the team this offseason, something he didn't do a year ago because of the lockout. In fact, he's been a regular at the Titans' workouts and his attendance hasn't gone unnoticed.
“C.J. has worked very hard,'' offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said in late May. “He is here, running hard and working hard. I'm very optimistic about how he's going to perform this [fall].”
Johnson has one other thing going for him: He made our list of 10 players most likely to bounce back in 2012 after a forgettable 2011.
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