Chris Johnson feeling unpredictable

Updated: August 14, 2014, 12:05 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPN.com

CORTLAND, N.Y. -- Former Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson expects a bounce-back year with the New York Jets, claiming he was held back by a stale offense over his final three seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

"When I was in Tennessee, a lot of the plays when the offensive coordinator was calling them, they were predictable," Johnson told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "Everybody could tell what was coming. With Marty [Mornhinweg], the plays aren't predictable."

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/Mel EvansChris Johnson expects a bounce-back year thanks in part to the Jets' unpredictable offense.

Johnson said Mornhinweg is the smartest coordinator he's had since 2010, Mike Heimerdinger's final season with the Titans. Johnson enjoyed his best years under Heimerdinger, rushing for 2,006 yards in 2009. Heimerdinger was fired by Mike Munchak after the 2010 season and died of cancer a few months later at age 58.

"That was sad, real sad," Johnson said. "It's crazy, because after that, I bounced around from all different types of offensive coordinators. It just didn't work out. ... I had three or four coordinators who just didn't put me in the right position. They didn't put me in the right situations."

Under Chris Palmer (2011 and 2012) and Dowell Loggains (2013), Johnson's production declined. After averaging 1,532 rushing yards per year from 2008 to 2010, he slipped to 1,122 yards over the last three.

Wear and tear have to be considered. Johnson also battled a knee injury last season, playing with a torn meniscus that occurred in Week 3. It was surgically repaired in January, two months before he was released by the Titans.

Johnson said he's learned to appreciate the value of clever play calling. He likes Mornhinweg's track record with running backs and the flexibility of his system, specifically the way the quarterback can change plays at the line of scrimmage. That, Johnson believes, helps the running game.

"I like the way he puts his playmakers in position to make plays," Johnson said. "When I first came into the league, I thought, 'Just give me the ball every play, and I'll make something happen.' But I got humbled a lot and I realized how important the offensive coordinator is.

"Nothing against those guys [in Tennessee]. Those guys had their offense and things they liked to do. ... A lot of times, some of the things we were doing were so predictable. That made it tough on the players, not just myself. It's something you have to go through. I'm not making excuses or blaming anybody. You just have to deal with the cards that are given to you."

The Jets signed Johnson to a two-year, $8 million contract, hoping he can add a big-play dimension to a rushing attack that ranked sixth in 2013.

"He's a home run back," guard Willie Colon said. "He can take it 80 yards. He's awesome."

Running backs coach Anthony Lynn said Johnson will benefit from an offense that attacks every hole with a variety of personnel groupings and formations. As he said, "You don't get the same look too often."

Johnson's surgically repaired knee could be the key to his season. He said it feels fine but admitted it's not 100 percent. Lynn said Johnson has regained his vertical speed but that his lateral movement isn't all the way back yet. He sees it improving on a daily basis.

Unlike his years in Tennessee, Johnson won't be a one-man show. The Jets plan a committee approach, using him with Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. But Lynn's philosophy is to ride the hot back. Johnson expects to be that guy. He wouldn't rule out another 2,000-yard season.

"I don't think it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said. "If you can get hot and that's your type of offense, it's possible. It's possible to do it. It's not about the number of running backs. I'm pretty sure, if you get in a zone or get hot, you're going to get a lot of carries."

Johnson said his No. 1 goal is to make the playoffs. He hasn't done that since 2008, his rookie year.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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