Chris Johnson tunes up for camp by racing cheetah
Chris Johnson refuses to spoil the ending, so everyone will just have to tune in come November to see how he fared against a cheetah.
The Titans running back and Chicago receiver Devin Hester took part in the human versus animal race for a cable TV special.
While most people don't give Hester or Johnson much of chance against a cheetah, Johnson says he ran at full speed.
"It was a cheetah," Johnson said Friday with a laugh. "I had to."
A year ago, some didn't give Johnson a chance against defenses; he was repeatedly questioned whether he had lost a step, or more, coming off the worst season of his career in 2011. He responded by running for 1,243 yards in his third-best season yet.
And about that speed — Johnson scored three touchdowns of 80 yards or longer. He now has six such TDs in his career, twice as much as any other player in NFL history. So racing a cheetah for National Geographic's Nat Geo Wild may help Johnson send a pre-emptive message before the season opens Sept. 8 in Pittsburgh.
"It just shows that I haven't lost a step," Johnson said as he sat in his locker. "I haven't lost any speed and just ready to really get back on the field and continue to play this game."
Now Johnson enters his sixth season with a new position coach in Sylvester Croom and trying to once again run the Titans to the playoffs with coach Mike Munchak wanting a run-first offense this season.
He also has a new teammate in running back Shonn Greene. Johnson wants to get back to the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season in 2008, and he has accepted Greene as someone who can help keep him on the field more. Greene, who is more than 30 pounds heavier than Johnson, was a perfect 11-of-11 on third-and-2 or shorter last season with the Jets.
"That's just another piece of that offense to continue to keep drives going and get us more plays," Johnson said.
Johnson currently ranks second to Adrian Peterson with 6,888 yards rushing over the past five seasons, which puts him sixth in NFL history for players through their first five seasons. He also has 8,546 yards from scrimmage, which ranks fifth in NFL history over a player's first five seasons.
Croom has been impressed most by Johnson's willingness to learn since he arrived. Johnson is pretty special as the sixth man in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, but he now is the third player in that category Croom has coached along with Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson. Johnson studied film with Croom, focusing on what the running back can do differently from last season to pick up more yards.
"And he agreed with that, and he's going about working on it," Croom said. "I'm very pleased with the way he has responded. As a veteran guy like that, the status that he has attained in this league at this point in his career, quite often guys are not inclined to make adjustments to their game."
The Titans want to take advantage of Johnson's speed by getting him more involved in the pass game. He has 230 receptions for 1,658 yards in his career averaging 7.2 yards per catch scoring four touchdowns in his first three seasons. But Johnson didn't reach the end zone off a pass at all in the past two seasons, and he had a career-low 36 receptions last season.
Johnson's focused on playing well to help the Titans get back to the playoffs. He left injured in his lone game and misses the atmosphere that comes with the postseason. That also will get the Titans back into some more prime-time games too that Johnson loves so much.
"I know right now how we been playing and what we been putting out there we probably don't deserve to have that spotlight," Johnson said. "But if we go out there and show what we can do and play how we know we can play and the type of guys that we have in this offense, it'll turn around really quick and we'll be right back where we left off."
So in the meantime, there's the race against the cheetah for some extra TV time, a race his teammates laughingly insist they don't believe happened no matter how fast they know Johnson can be.
"CJ barely wants to get close to his dogs in his backyard, let alone a cheetah," receiver Nate Washington said.