Titans not sure if they'll have vintage CJ2K in season opener

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew wishes Chris Johnson had waited another week before reaching his deal because he expects the three-time Pro Bowl pick to hit the ground running after his contract holdout.

Jones-Drew has talked to people who worked out with Johnson during the NFL lockout and that contract holdout, so he knows the Titans running back is ready to go. He also knows how crucial Johnson is to the Tennessee Titans.

"People want to talk about quarterbacks and all those things, but you can't mention the Tennessee Titans without Chris Johnson," Jones-Drew said Wednesday. "He is one of the top playmakers in this league and in our division."

Whether Johnson can be that playmaker Sunday in the season opener at Jacksonville remains to be seen after barely a week's worth of work with his teammates.

Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer has seen enough in a couple days to be impressed with Johnson. Palmer calls the running back a true professional ready both on the field and in the playbook with the coordinator's tweaks to Tennessee's offense and a new quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck. No one is saying yet how many carries Johnson will have in Jacksonville.

"Conditioning-wise, you have to be concerned about that," Palmer said. "The other guys have been going for over a month, and you know you've got to take and bring him along. Don't overload him and make sure you don't do something to damage him. Jim Skipper, our running backs coach, will monitor that, and we'll take the actions that we have to do during the course of the game."

Johnson worked out in Orlando before getting his four-year extension for $53 million, so he thinks he'll be ready for the heat in Jacksonville. But Johnson said he didn't work out with pads, so the running back who wants the ball as much as possible isn't sure how much he will be able to do physically until he's on the field Sunday.

The Titans need Johnson running as much as possible.

Johnson ranks third all-time in the NFL in average yards rushing during the month of September. He averages 98.9 yards trailing only Jim Brown (110.8) and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (110.9).

Against Jacksonville, Johnson has run 111 times for 632 yards for an average of 5.7 yards per carry. He had the best game of his career against the Jaguars rushing for 228 yards on Nov. 1, 2009, on his way to 2,006 yards, and Tennessee is 4-2 in his six games against the Jags.

"I like playing against them because I'm from Florida, and that's a town where a lot of people from home get to come see me play ...," Johnson said. "Then again, it's kind of like a rival game between us and Jacksonville ... We don't like each other. It's always a good game. They want to run the ball, we want to run the ball. So it's sort of ... a matchup between me and Jones-Drew. And our defense trying to stop him and their defense trying to stop me, so it's always a fun game."

With Jacksonville releasing David Garrard on Tuesday and naming Luke McCown the starter, Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray doesn't expect any change in the Jaguars' offense.

"They're going to run the football. They've done that the last five or six years. They've done it really well," Gray said.

The key is how is Jones-Drew feeling. He didn't have much of a preseason himself, recovering from surgery to fix torn meniscus in his right knee after rushing for 1,324 yards last season. The opener will be his first full game since December with only five carries for 14 yards last week in the preseason finale against St. Louis.

"I feel great. I think rehab went well," Jones-Drew said. "This long offseason obviously helped me more than it did some other guys, but I was able to do my rehab process on my own and not really be rushed back. Talking to Dr. (James) Andrews, who did my surgery, not forcing me back in training camp was also a great idea. I feel fresh and I'm the lightest I have ever been and I'm just ready to play."

The Titans may have to make a roster move to give Johnson some help. Javon Ringer missed practice Wednesday with a sore back after a sore hip kept him out of three preseason games. Titans coach Mike Munchak expects Ringer back Thursday, but adding another running back is likely if Ringer can't play. The only other running back on the roster is rookie Jamie Harper.

"We're not looking for any excuses. We're looking like there's no reason this shouldn't work well," Munchak said of the rushing offense. "We're blocking well up front. The tight ends are blocking well. We just got to fit them in and know yeah, they haven't had as many reps as we'd like. But we need to go down there and produce."

Munchak does have an idea of how Johnson can help both the Titans and himself.

"It's just a matter of going out there and hitting a couple plays and having some success early. I think will make a big plus for all of us," Munchak said.

Notes: Defensive ends Jason Jones and Derrick Morgan did not practice Wednesday. Munchak expects Jones (left knee) to return Thursday. Morgan is expected to miss Sunday's opener after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Aug. 29.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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