Inside This Week’s SI: CJ2K the Hard Way

CJ2KA 2,000-yard season created high expectations for Titans running back Chris Johnson—and he doesn’t mind them at all. Just don’t say he’s lost a step, writes Alan Shipnuck in this week’s SI. “Don’t say I’m back, because I never went away,” Johnson says. (PAGE 44)

After rushing for 2,006 yards in 2009, the magic number has defined and tormented Johnson, especially since he predicts each summer that he will rush for 2,000 yards.“I can’t rush for 2,000 yards, then come back and say I want to rush for 1,500,” Johnson says. “That’s slackin’, man. Two K has to be the goal.” With his nickname, CJ2K, and annual predictions, some outsiders have labeled Johnson as selfish. Johnson has a rebuttal. “When Adrian Peterson talks about rushing for 2,500 yards, he’s ambitious,” Johnson says. “When I talk about [2,000 yards], everybody says I’m selfish.” (PAGE 42)

Titans coach Mike Munchak openly supports all the talk about 2,000. “That relentless drive is what makes CJ who he is,” Munchak says. “We have a young quarterback [Jake Locker], so the more yards CJ gets, the more he’s helping this team win.” (PAGE 42)

After struggling last year behind a shaky offensive line and young quarterback in Locker, Johnson and the Titans are trying to reestablish their old identify as a team that dominates on the ground. The Titans drafted Alabama All-America guard Chase Warmak and signed free agents Andy Levitre (guard), Delanie Walker (tight end) and Shonn Greene (running back). Thirty-two-year old Dowell Loggains, who was promoted to Titans offensive coordinator last November and has been with the team since Johnson was drafted in 2008, is one of Johnson’s biggest fans. Getting to draw up plays for Johnson is “like being handed the joystick to a video game,” says Loggains. (PAGE 41)

“People see the exterior, and yeah, he’s not the most polished kid in the world, so they misjudge him,” Loggains says. “But he’s one of my favorite players. Everything is Yes, sir or No, sir. I’ve never seen him back-talk a coach or get into any kind of confrontation with a teammate. He works hard, does what you ask, shows up every Sunday. I’ve seen him at 10–0 and at 0–6, and he was the same kid.” (PAGE 43)

With new line personnel and an offense tailored to his skills, Johnson is “as relaxed as I’ve ever seen him,” says receiver Nate Washington, his best friend on the team. “For all the success CJ has had, he’s been through a lot of stuff on and off the field. Now the only thing on his mind is football. Mark it down: He’s gonna have a monster year.” (PAGE 42)

Johnson has spent the offseason working on running straight at defenders, rather than always trying to use his speed to outrace them down the sideline. That doesn’t mean he has lost a step. “That’s crazy talk,” Johnson snaps, when asked if he is not as explosive as he once was. “Chris is as quick and powerful as he’s ever been,” says Tom Shaw, a former Patriots assistant who helps fast players run faster in the off-season through training. “That’s a testament to his desire and his will to maintain his gift.” (PAGE 43)

For all he’s accomplished, Johnson still doesn’t like to hear criticism. “I saw on ESPN the other day a list of the top 10 fantasy backs, and I wasn’t on it,” he says. “They trippin’.” Now all he wants to do is help lead his team to the playoffs. “The ring’s the thing now,” Johnson says. (PAGE 44) Yet Johnson is very aware of his place in history and is already thinking about his legacy. “If I rush for two thousand yards this year, I’ll want to do it again next year,” Johnson says. “I look at what Adrian Peterson does, what Arian Foster does—I know I’m competing with those guys every Sunday. But I’m also competing with the Emmitt Smiths, the Barry Sanders, the Eric Dickersons. That’s how high my standards are.” (PAGE 44)


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