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Monday, April 9, 2012
Under pressure: Chris Johnson

By Paul Kuharsky

It’s easy to look at the Titans’ depth chart and circle defensive end Derrick Morgan or center Eugene Amano as players who head into 2012 under pressure.

But Morgan got some pressure alleviated by the arrival of free agent Kamerion Wimbley and there is still likely a defensive end coming in the draft. And I’m not convinced Amano will remain in the starting lineup.

So the easier, more obvious, choice for the Titans in this week's look at AFC South players under pressure is running back Chris Johnson.

Chris Johnson
Chris Johnson's disappointing 2011 season followed his signing of a substantial contract extension.
He can say his numbers -- 262 carries for 1,047 yards -- didn’t turn out to be awful in 2011. He can say he’s lost no speed. He can say he ran hard.

But saying it doesn’t make any of it true.

In the open field, I think he’s still a blazer. But if he folds up into the fetal position as he did too often last season, he’ll give himself few chances to get into the open field. The sea won't part for him all the time, and he will have to find more ways to break into the second level.

I expect at least one more move by the Titans on the interior line, and if both Amano and Leroy Harris, who is heading to right guard, remain in the starting lineup they will have improved enough to hold off some level of challenge.

That should help Johnson, as should the return of Kenny Britt, the Titans’ most dangerous downfield receiver.

Johnson had a bad year, and it came after getting the contract extension for which he held out.

Now he will be part of the team’s offseason work for the first time. He’s always spent offseasons in Orlando, and said he couldn’t understand objections over it based on his production. Last year there was no offseason to be part of.

Now, if he’s not at 30 of 36 workouts, he’ll take a $250,000 cut in his 2012 salary.

While I understand frustrated fans who are ready to call him done, one bad year was simply not a big enough sample size to give up on him.

He’s a proud guy. He loved hearing how he won people their fantasy leagues and was underpaid. He’s got to hate hearing now about how people wasted their No. 1 pick on him and how he’s overpaid. I expect that to motivate him.

I can’t say for sure that he’ll be better, but I’d be surprised if the Titans cannot get more out of him given a full offseason to evaluate and fix their run-game issues.

And he has to know a second down year will prompt the team to seriously consider dropping him before another piece of that new contract becomes guaranteed.