A 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)
You learn two things playing 18 holes with Steph Curry: He’s a golf junkie and every bit as clutch on the course as he is on the court, writes Alan Shipnuck in this week’s SI. Shipnuck joined Curry in a in better-ball match at Spyglass Hill, in Pebble Beach, Calif., against Curry’s father, Dell, and Warriors owner Joe Lacob. Shipnuck says, “A recent 18 holes with Steph Curry showed him to be a charming young man, a superb athlete and money in the clutch . . . . Curry is an unabashed golf nerd.” (PAGE 13)
Steph Curry played golf at a high level in high school and continues to play (his low round is a 66) and watch golf. “The TV at home is pretty much always on the Golf Channel,” Curry says. (PAGE 13) Always calm on the basketball court, Curry prepares for shots on the golf course in a similar fashion. “When I’m swinging the club, I don’t overthink it,” he would later say. “I just settle into a good position and let my athletic ability take over. Putting is more like free throw shooting. I focus on the preshot routine, paying attention to the details. Then I get over the ball and let my mind go blank.” (PAGE 16)
After trailing his father and Lacob after nine holes, Curry told Shipnuick, “Time to play some golf, partner.” (PAGE 16) Naturally, Steph led the duo to a comeback win. “That was one of the best rounds of golf I’ve ever seen,” said Lacob. (PAGE 14)
Since nobody in the NBA can touch Steph Curry on the links, SI took a look at the best golfers in the other three major sports:
• Tony Romo: The Cowboys QB attempted to qualify for the U.S. Open.
• Justin Verlander: The Tigers’ pitcher has a four handicap.
• John-Miachael Liles: In 2009, Golf Digest listed the Maple Leafs’ defenseman’s handicap at 0.8.
Game-changing rushers are once again proving the value of a productive – and protective – ground attack
Reports of the running game’s death have been greatly exaggerated, as game-changing rushers continue to prove the value of a productive – and protective – ground attack. Through 11 weeks, the NFL’s top five in rushing attempts – Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch, Doug Martin, Adrian Peterson and Stevan Ridley – have slowed the tide of body-slamming pass rushers and provided valuable protection for their quarterbacks. Peter King, Alan Shipnuck and Jim Trotter take a closer look at the way three of those running backs are reviving the run game.
- Marshawn Lynch – Joyous, humble and committed to his community—that’s Marshawn Lynch off the field. On it? Alan Shipnuck says you better strap in or get out of the way. With four straight 100-yard games, he’s averaged even better stats in the second half of games than in the first (page 37).
- Adrian Peterson – Peterson’s ridiculously speedy recovery from ACL surgery is almost as hard to believe as his stats this year, says Ben Reiter (page 41).
- Doug Martin – The Bucs’ rookie, whose nickname is the Muscle Hamster, is on a wild run straight into the record books writes Jim Trotter. With a franchise-best 251 yards on 25 carries against the Raiders, he is on pace for 2,110 total yards, third most ever for a rookie (page 43).