|For the first time in a long time Johnson is taking part in offseason workouts. (Getty Images)|
A year ago, we were in the early stages of an NFL lockout that would last until late July. Consequently, there weren't OTAs or minicamps, and the first chance for officially organized workouts didn't come until training camp. For Titans running back Chris Johnson, it came more than a month after that, 10 days before the start of the regular season when he finally ended his holdout and signed a four-year, $53.5 million deal.
That, it turns out, was the highlight of his 2011 season. By Week 9, Johnson had a grand total of 302 rushing yards. By the end of the year, Johnson had managed to run for 1,047 yards but he ranked second from the bottom in Football Outsiders' running back efficiency metric.
This offseason, Johnson is doing something he normally hasn't: he's been a regular at OTAs. In previous years, Johnson worked out in Florida with his trainer, something plenty of veteran players do. (Apparently, it was one of the reasons Kellen Winslow was traded from the Bucs to the Seahawks.) According to the Tennessean's Jim Wyatt, a clause in Johnson's contract requires him to be at the majority of the team's offseason workouts.
Whatever the reason for his presence, Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has been impressed. “C.J. has worked very hard,'' Palmer said. “He is here, running hard and working hard. I'm very optimistic about how he's going to perform this (fall).”
If you've followed the Eye on Football blog for any time, you've probably heard us lament that teams shouldn't use first-round picks on running backs, and they shouldn't pay them big-money contracts. Johnson is a recent example of why tying up limited salary-cap dollars in one of the game's most fungible positions is a mistake.
While this isn't an indictment against the importance of having a quality running back, it does speak to how organizations have historically overvalued them. It's also why two of the league's best young runners, Baltimore's Ray Rice and Chicago's Matt Forte, will likely end up with substantially smaller long-term contracts than what they would have just a few years ago.
For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.