A more focused, disciplined and chiseled Chris Johnson has promised to put a career-worst season behind him.
At times during training camp, the Tennessee Titans' running back compared his recent career-path to one encountered by LeBron James over the last year. Just as the NBA most valuable player rebounded from a trying season in 2010, a humbled Johnson is motivated to prove his doubters wrong.
Still, Johnson's numbers through three preseason games are similar to his statistics from 2011. Johnson has rushed for 81 yards on 28 carries (2.9 yards per carry) after Thursday's win over the Cardinals. Last season, the All-Pro running back rushed for 1,047 yards (4.0 ypc) -- both career lows.
On several carries, Johnson again appeared hesitant to attack the creases in the defense by dancing for too long after taking a handoff. It was a tendency that limited Johnson's production throughout the 2011 season.
“If you get that mistake corrected, there would have been an opportunity for the big one,” Johnson said.
The Titans faced an Arizona defense known for stacking the box with its safeties. If Johnson found an opening on the second level, he may have broken a couple of runs for long gains.
“They are a good defense,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “There were a couple runs we had with CJ that we got a lot of one-yard gains or one-yard losses. We just have to eliminate some of (them).”
In an early-August joint practice with the Falcons, Johnson arguably had the best performance of any player on the Titans' roster. Munchak lauded Johnson for his sharp cutting and decisiveness in hitting the holes. Johnson also demonstrated speed on the outside in two touchdown runs last week vs. the Buccaneers.
Munchak taking cautionary approach vs. the Saints: Munchak doesn't expect to play Jake Locker more than a half in next Thursday's preseason finale vs. the Saints. Locker played deep into the third quarter against the Cardinals.
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey injured his elbow just before halftime against Arizona and will likely miss the New Orleans game, Munchak said. Cornerback Ryan Mouton (concussion) has been ruled out. Defensive end Dave Ball, who has missed the majority of the preseason with concussion-like symptoms, will be held out of practice next week.
Wright developing rapport with Locker: Rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright has developed instant chemistry with Locker during the preseason. Wright leads the Titans in receptions with eight and receiving yards with 100.
On Thursday, Locker impressed Munchak by checking a run into a pass on a 10-yard touchdown completion to Wright in the first quarter. Locker took a three-step drop and connected with Wright on a back shoulder fade route.
“I just played over top of him, he had a good release off the ball,” Locker said. “It was something we worked on in practice, he kind of had an expectation for it.”
Cook not worried about contract situation: Jared Cook flashed his potential yet again on Thursday with a spectacular, over the shoulder 35-yard catch. Cook's 15.5 yards per catch average in 2011 was among the highest by tight ends in the AFC.
The Titans agreed to terms with cornerback Jason McCourty on Thursday on a five-year, $43 million extension, according to ESPN. Could Cook be next? Cook's contract expires after the season.
“I'm not really focused on it,” Cook said. “There's still another year on my contract. My job is to be here to play football.”
The 10 highest-paid tight ends in the NFL this season will all earn at least $3.6 million in base salary. Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis, the fifth-highest paid tight end, is set to earn a base salary of $4.2 million.
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