Johnson remains Titans' starting RB, but Ringer still involved

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coach Mike Munchak is doing his best to defuse a potential running back controversy.

Munchak made it clear Monday that Chris Johnson remains Tennessee's starter, and the coach said he sees the running back working harder than ever.

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"He's handling the situation where expectations are so high, I don't know how he could ... unless we're running for 200 yards a game," Munchak said.

"There's going to be people questioning what he's doing just because he's paid how he is and he's perceived to be one of the top backs in the league, so people expect an awful lot from him every time he steps on the field. When you come short of that and as a team we struggle, everyone's trying to figure out what's wrong. Something must be wrong."

Well, Johnson helped drive expectations sky high for himself by leading the NFL in rushing yards between 2008 and 2010. He became just the sixth man in league history to run for 2,000 yards in a season in 2009, and he notched 24 100-yard rushing games through his first three seasons.

Since sitting out the preseason before signing a six-year, $53.5 million contract extension with $30 million guaranteed, Johnson has topped 100 yards only once.

Johnson has been held to 34 yards or fewer four times this season, or what he had through his first three seasons. But Johnson said after Sunday's 27-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts that he feels fine and hasn't lost any of his speed, and he felt close to breaking loose on a couple plays.

The questions are going to continue until the Titans (4-3) fix the NFL's worst running game. Their per-game average is up from 64.3 to 68.9 yards per game after totaling 96 against Indianapolis but easily trails the Seattle Seahawks' 77.7.

Munchak said there's no plan to even out the carries between Johnson and backup Javon Ringer, although the latter will play.

"There's no rhyme or reason to it right now. If there was, I'd let you know," Munchak said. "We're just trying to get something fixed that hasn't been as productive as we'd like, and we're not doing anything different ... We don't feel any different about Chris Johnson. All of the above. Nothing's changing. Our philosophy hasn't changed."

Notes: Munchak said he expects TE Craig Stevens (ribs) to practice Wednesday after being deactivated against the Colts to help put his injury behind him. ... LB Colin McCarthy (hamstring) also might practice after missing two games. ... Safety Chris Hope (left forearm) is the only Titan not expected to be available for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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