- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- After sitting out the offseason as he recovered from knee surgery, New York Jets running back Chris Johnson was medically cleared recently by Dr. James Andrews to participate in training camp.
And he got off to an impressive start Wednesday.
Rex Ryan said Johnson was "flying" in the mandatory conditioning run. The Jets practice Thursday for the first time.
The Jets, looking for a home-run threat in their backfield, signed the former Tennessee Titans star to a two-year, $8 million contract only two months after he underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus. It was a calculated gamble, but they believe a healthy Johnson can make a huge difference.
Johnson, 28, is attempting to rebound after rushing for career-low 1,037 yards last season, when he provided fodder for those who believe he's on the downside of his career.
The critics, he said, are off base.
"I don't think they're legitimate," he said after checking into camp. "I don't know too many guys that had a torn meniscus since Week 3 and still rushed for 1,000 yards."
Johnson waited until January to get the surgery. In April, he was released by the Titans, four seasons removed from his 2,000-yard performance.
As a precaution, the Jets kept him on the sideline in the spring. One day after the June minicamp, Johnson was examined by Andrews. He spent the next month working with his personal trainer in Orlando, getting ready for camp.
"I'm pretty good," he said of his knee. "I'm ready to do whatever they ask me to do."
The Jets probably will put him on a modified practice schedule, as they've done in the past with veterans coming off injuries. Their objective is to have him peaking for the Sept. 7 opener against the Oakland Raiders.
The addition of Johnson is one of the reasons why the Jets are gushing with optimism.
After last season's surprising 8-8 finish, Ryan and several players have talked openly about making the playoffs.
"I feel incredible about this team," said Ryan, whose Jets will be trying to end a three-year playoff drought.
To show the team's commitment, the sixth-year coach said every player passed the conditioning test -- the first time that has happened in his tenure.
Before he got too carried away with confidence, Ryan caught himself, saying, "If we could talk about it and get (to the playoffs), it would've already been done. We know that talking won't get it done. We have to earn it."