On Chris Johnson, blocker and receiver

September, 27, 2013
9/27/13
2:03
PM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson hasn’t busted a run longer than 23 yards in three games, and since he’s a home-run hitter, it’s natural that attention will fall on that.

What has struck me about the Tennessee Titans running back through three games, however, is how well he’s contributed to the pass protection for quarterback Jake Locker.

“He’s underrated in my opinion," Locker said. "He does a great job, he sticks his face in there, he’s really physical in the pass protection."

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Chris Johnson has impressed the Titans with his improved blocking this season.
Sylvester Croom is in his first season as the Titans' running backs coach.

Croom liked what Johnson was doing in pass protection before he joined the staff, but has worked with him to expand his toolbox when it comes to slowing down a linebacker or defensive back trying to get involved in the rush.

“The big thing we wanted to do was try to make it a little easier for him,” Croom said. “He’s not a very big guy, and surprisingly, I think for his frame and body size, he packs a pretty good punch. We want him to get better leverage, to get lower and to attack them before they get a great head of speed.

“The other thing we want to do is give him another weapon in the cut block and improving that technique. He had a couple of those in there last week, just using them as a change up.”

Johnson’s pass protection in the Titans game-winning drive against the Chargers rated as “absolutely perfect,” Croom said.

Not only has Johnson helped save Locker from the pass rush, he helped spring the quarterback on a 7-yard touchdown run against the Chargers.

“That’s an advantage for us, because you’re not taking him out and putting someone else in that situation and drawing some red flags,” Locker said.

“I’m sure people don’t expect him to be a lead blocker,” Croom said.

While Johnson is running reasonably well with 256 yards through three games, and blocking well, he has not been featured much in the pass game, which is one of the things the Titans said they intended to do this season.

Johnson has two catches for 2 yards, and lost one good gain on a screen pass in Houston to a penalty.

Two things are at play in those small numbers.

1) The Titans haven’t thrown many checkdowns.

And fewer checkdowns are a good thing, it means something is there for Locker earlier in the read, and to someone who is likely deeper down the field.

“As well as we run the football, and people are playing us a lot of man-to-man coverage, well, you’re not going to get a lot of checkdowns on man-to-man coverage,” Croom said. “That’s what’s happening right now. We did get a little more zone last week, but the receivers were open. I’m very happy we threw it to the receivers, because that’s a lot bigger gain when they catch the football.”

2) They simply haven’t called many screens yet, because other things have been available. And that’s a game-by-game thing.

“We haven’t called as many as we discussed because as we got in the game other things were going on,” Croom said. “You always carry several screens into the game plan. Sometimes a situation comes up where you use them and sometimes you don’t.”

Like with a lot of things we haven’t yet seen from the Titans, there is still time for more screens to show up.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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