Tennessee Titans  

 

Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans seeking to restore power

NASHVILLE -- Chris Johnson is happy to say it again, but this time, he wants those listening to understand.

The sixth-year pro isn't going to reach 2,000 rushing yards for a second time -- or break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record -- alone. The ups and downs he's gone through since his 2K season of 2009 haven't come in a vacuum, nor was that breakout campaign a solo effort -- not by a long shot.

"It's been a humbling experience," Johnson said before another practice in the teeth of the training camp grind. "But at the end of the day, what a lot of people don't understand is, there are so many things that go into having a 2,000-yard season, even just having a lot of rushing yards. The year that I did, we had a great defense getting us the ball back, a great offensive line and a great offensive coordinator. There's just so much that goes into it; everything got to be hitting on the right angles."

Point is, Johnson plans to lean on his teammates in 2013, just as they might be leaning even harder on him.

When the Titans open the preseason Thursday against the Washington Redskins, the staff leading them will be carrying a lineage that draws all the way back to the franchise's initial move from Houston to Memphis and, finally, Nashville.

The group's survival might depend on its ability to return to those roots.

Bud Adams gave coach Mike Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster a stay of execution in February after a 6-10 season, but the 90-year-old owner's patience has shown signs of wearing thin over the past 18 months. This was true most notably with regard to the frantic -- and failed -- pursuit of Peyton Manning that Adams pushed last offseason.

No one here has misunderstood that. And by the look of it, the plan is pretty simple: If the old-guard guys are going to go down, they're going to go down doing it their way, the way the club operated back when Steve McNair and Eddie George were populating the backfield. There are tangible signs of this, with the return of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams being the most obvious example. Then there's the less tangible effort to restore an attitude that has been missing, to some degree, since former coach Jeff Fisher was dismissed at the end of the 2010 season.

"We want to be a good, physical team that can run the ball, and that can control the ball when we need to control the ball," said Webster. "Along those lines, yeah, we're trying to get back to that, kind of what the Titans were and what the Titans really have always been when they've been successful."

And that makes Johnson -- the team's highest-paid player -- vital.

It also makes it imperative that the club's high-end offseason investments work out. Adams opened the vault for Webster and Co. to ink free-agent guard Andy Levitre to a six-year, $46.8 million deal. The GM and his staff then tapped Alabama product Chance Warmack to fill the other guard spot with the 10th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft. All this came a year after Tennessee's decision to refrain from spending on linemen -- choosing instead to go all-in on the effort to land Manning -- put the team in a bind up front.

Then there's the change in who's calling the plays on offense. Dowell Loggains, who took over those duties after former offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was fired in the middle of last season, has now had a full offseason with which to install his own system, which is markedly different from Palmer's.

Regarding the change, Johnson said, "I feel like (Loggains) is an upgrade. He's more open to what players think. ... You gotta know what you're dealing with when you come to a team. You can't come to a team that's always been run-based and try to change it to a passing team. That wasn't gonna work out."

Here, in Johnson's opinion, is what will work out now: "We're meaner, nastier, not really trying to trick people, just wanting to go out there and run the ball. A lot of teams, with the additions we made on the offensive line, I think they know we're gonna run the ball. And we're fixing to go out there and run the ball. And they know we're gonna run the ball, and you gotta stop it."

The running game isn't the only part of their offense that the Titans expect will be better.

The club is encouraged by the growth of receiver Kenny Britt, who spent much more of this offseason in Tennessee and much less of it in his native New Jersey, where trouble has always seemed to follow him. A different kind of growth is expected of Kendall Wright, the team's first-round pick in 2012, who looks poised to evolve into a Swiss army knife for Loggains. The hope, too, is that new tight end Delanie Walker's versatility will more than make up for the loss of former tight end Jared Cook's athleticism.

Where Tennessee really needs to get better, though, is at quarterback. And accordingly, Loggains and Co. have installed more read-option elements, to accentuate Jake Locker's athleticism and make him more comfortable in the offense.

But if Johnson has his way, the line earns its pay and Munchak's vision comes to life, the edge with which Munchak and line coach Bruce Matthews -- who had Hall of Fame careers as O-linemen with the franchise -- once played will reemerge as the hallmark of the offense.

"It's just changing the mindset," Levitre said. "It's easy to be passive on the offensive line, but to really be aggressive, get after guys week in and week out, you really gotta change the mindset and have that mentality. We need to bring that back here."

Johnson boils it down to this: "Just hearing it from the coach's mouth, they want to get back to the old Tennessee Titans football."

The Titans workhorse watched last year as Adrian Peterson got within shouting distance of Dickerson's single-season mark of 2,105 with the Minnesota Vikings. Johnson will remind you that, had a 70-yard touchdown run not been called back in 2009, he'd have come close then, too.

So yes, he has his eyes on that mark again. He won't let it get in the way of what the team is trying to do, of course, but the way he sees it, that kind of production fits right into the grander plan.

"Of course, I wanna break it," he said. "The closer you get to it, the hungrier you get for it. My goal is to get 2,000 yards; that's what I'm striving for. And if I don't get 2,000 yards, I'm not gonna get upset, because the main goal is to get to the playoffs and get to a championship. But every year I play, my goal is 2,000 yards. I can't rush for 2,000 and come back and say my goal is to rush for 1,500 yards. I've done did 2,000; I wanna do it again."

And if he can get back to where he once was, maybe the Titans can follow suit.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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