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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Johnson: Titans' Johnson speeds to NFL rushing lead

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tennessee's Chris Johnson (28) sprints past a diving Jacksonville defensive back Reggie Nelson.
(T-G Photo by Danny Parker)
Tennessee Titan second-year running back Chris Johnson continues to prove he's one of the NFL's top young offensive stars.

Last year he turned in one of the most impressive seasons by a rookie running back in franchise history after gaining 1,228 yards on 251 carries. For good measure, he's also a threat out of the backfield with 43 receptions totaling 260 yards last year.

He was rewarded a trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii for his efforts. Another "vacation" to the beach might be on his schedule at the end of the season.

Johnson is currently the leading rusher in the NFL with 824 yards. He's coming off a franchise-record 228-yard performance on the ground against Jacksonville last week, which included touchdown runs of 89 and 52.

"It feels real good to look at some of the guys who have played before me, then come in and break a record," Johnson said. "But records are made to be broken."

Johnson, from Orlando, Fla,, went to college at East Carolina because it offered the best opportunity for him to play running back. Other schools that recruited him wanted him to be a cornerback.

That proved to be a good decision by East Carolina as he's the third all-time leading rusher in school history with 2,982 yards.

A lot of people questioned the Titans when they drafted him as the 24th pick overall in the 2008 draft.

He caught the eye of Titan scouts after running a 4.24 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. That's the fastest time at the combine in the last 15 years and is believed to be the fastest ever electronically timed there.

Johnson has the unique skill of speed, quickness and ability to change direction in a split second.

My spot in the Titans press box is beside a reporter from Kentucky who seems to be a huge Jacksonville fan. We talked throughout the game and he was so disappointed on how many tackles the Jaguar defense missed on Johnson's two long touchdowns runs.

There's a television mounted right above my head in the press box, so I have a chance to see each play again since there is about a three- or four-second delay between the actual play on the field until it's broadcast on television.

I pointed out to him that those tackles were missed because of Johnson's quick feet and his ability to turn on a dime.

He makes defensive players look bad.

Johnson lists former NFL star Deion Sanders as his favorite sports hero but he's starting to remind a lot of football fans of another former great football player with the last name of Sanders.

Barry Sanders.

In just ten years in the NFL, Barry Sanders gained 15,269 rushing yards, 2,921 receiving yards, 118 kickoff return yards, and 109 touchdowns (99 rushing, 10 receiving). He remains third on the all-time rushing list behind only Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton.

I'm not ready to compare Johnson to the great Detroit Lions Hall of Famer, but they do have some similarities in running the football.

Sanders achieved Pro Bowl status in each of his 10 seasons as a pro.

It's fair to say that Johnson is well on his way to his second straight Pro Bowl.

-- Gary Johnson is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at gjohnson@t-g.com.

Gary Johnson
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