Around the League will examine one key figure under pressure on each team heading into the 2012 season. Next up: The Tennessee Titans.
Under Pressure: Chris Johnson
You know when you wake up from a nightmare and you get that feeling of relief that everything is OK?
Chris Johnson probably woke up every day last year expecting his nightmare to go away. But it never did.
It's difficult to put into perspective how awful the first half of Johnson's 2011 was, but we'll give it a shot. Midway through the season, Johnson was averaging barely three yards per carry and was on pace for a 700-yard rushing season. This was just two years removed from a campaign in which he became the sixth player in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 yards rushing in a season.
Fresh off signing a massive contract that included a whopping $30 million in guaranteed cash, CJ2K had become CJ0K.
We saw more Chris Johnson-like rushing performances in the second half of last season, but he enters 2012 as a question mark. What version of CJ2K will the Titans get? And will they be able to survive if the old Chris Johnson stays AWOL?
Coming off his worst season, Johnson changed up his offseason routine, training with teammates in Tennessee instead of private workouts with a personal trainer in Florida. (The Titans included a clause in his extension that requires him to attend the majority of team workouts.)
"C.J. has worked very hard," offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said this week, according to The Tennessean. "He is here, running hard and working hard. I'm very optimistic about how he's going to perform this (fall)."
Optimism is fine, but Palmer might privately tell you he's desperate for Johnson to return to form. If his running back can return to being one of the most dangerous players in football, Palmer's offense can be a completely different animal.
As for Johnson, he's undoubtedly aware he needs to raise his game if he wants to hold onto that six-year, $55.26 million contract he signed last September. As Matt Forte is proving, it's not always easy to get paid big money at the running-back position. If the Titans cut ties, it's unlikely Johnson will ever sniff that type of paycheck again.
Now that's pressure.