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Friday, May 9, 2014
Versatility, Titans' new backfield buzzword

By Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson had one primary characteristic.

Super speed.

He used it to run for more than 2,000 yards in 2009. He used it to get more 1,000 yards in six straight seasons. He used it to race a cheetah.

He's still very fast, but his home run hitting dropped off dramatically, his price was too high and the Titans parted ways with him.

Second-round pick Bishop Sankey should be the lead member of the committee that replaces Johnson. At pick No. 54, Sankey was the first running back drafted, and the Titans started a mini-run at the position. Jeremy Hill went to Cincinnati with the next pick and Carlos Hyde went to San Francisco with the 57th pick.

The buzzword for Sankey and the entire Titans backfield is now versatility.

Sankey's work won't hinge on one thing. The Titans see a runner who can go inside or out, has good vision and understanding of where he should go. He can catch and pass protect.

"I'm a guy that likes to use his eyes when I'm running," he said. "I feel like I'm patient enough to press the line of scrimmage and make the correct read and cut. I think that does work to my advantage as far as being a running back and running down the field and making guys miss in that second level."

While they can lean on Shonn Greene for short-yardage and pure power situations and turn to Dexter McCluster as a jitterbug pass catcher, they expect to lean on Sankey as a three-down back when they want to.

"Really, what he brings to us is a great deal of versatility: vision, feet, ability to catch the football," general manager Ruston Webster said. "The important thing for us in picking one of these backs was to get the right fit for the coaches' offense. Versatility and the ability to play on three downs was really one of the main criteria."

Said Titans West scout Marv Sunderland: "He has a great style. He is more than just kind of a speed guy. He can run inside and can run outside. He can get outside, he can run through guys, and he can break the long runs. He has great hands out of the backfield, and he is a good blocker."

Sankey said he's been compared to Giovani Bernard and LeSean McCoy. Bernard is just getting started with the Bengals but had a fine rookie year. McCoy is one of the league's best -- and most versatile -- backs.

Sunderland sees another fine NFL runner in Sankey.

"The guy that he most reminds me of is a guy from when I was with the Giants, we had Tiki Barber," he said. "He runs a lot like Tiki. Tiki put the ball on the ground, this kid doesn't."