NASHVILLE, TENN. (AP) - The ink starts at Chris Johnson’s neck, with wings tattooed just above his collarbone, reminding the world that he is the NFL’s most recent member of the very rare club of 2,000-yard rushers. The Tennessee running back also has “Cause IM A Star” perched just above a red star in the middle of his chest.
Dream big, then run faster than anyone else in the NFL.
Johnson used that combination to rush his way to NFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2009, becoming only the sixth man in league history to run for at least 2,000 yards. He’s back for his third season with goals set even higher than a year ago: Run right past Eric Dickerson’s NFL rushing record of 2,105 yards all the way to 2,500.
That would make him the first ever to run for 2,000 yards twice in a career with the added twist of doing it back-to-back. Dickerson didn’t do it. Neither did Barry Sanders, Jamal Lewis, O.J. Simpson or Terrell Davis.
Johnson calls it his chip on his shoulder.
“It gives me something to look forward to. People might be like, ‘Oh you run for 2,000 yards so he’s content or whatever like that.’ I haven’t broken the record, so I still have something on my shoulder and something to work hard for,” Johnson said.
Being voted the Offensive Player of the Year? Nice, but MVP is his target again. If he runs for 2,000 yards again, he reasons voters can’t deny rewarding such a historic performance.
“I feel like I’m never satisfied,” Johnson said. “I’m coming back in with the same mindset that I haven’t done anything yet.”
Brash statements coming from a guy so soft-spoken that reporters have to push to get microphones close enough to hear him. But Johnson has the tools to back them up.
A native of Orlando, Fla., he finished second in the 100-meter dash in a state meet to eventual 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Walter Dix.
Only one college want him to play his preferred position of running back, but in his senior year at East Carolina he led the nation with 227.7 all-purpose yards a game. He posted a 4.24-second time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, believed to be the fastest electronically measured time at the event dating back to 1982. When the draft started, four running backs were taken before the Titans grabbed Johnson at No. 24 overall.
He’s been nearly unstoppable ever since.
He ran for 1,228 yards in 2008 and gave a glimpse in the Titans’ second game last season how he planned to live up to his preseason boasts of running for 2,000 yards. He ran for 197 yards on 16 carries against Houston, a game featuring a 69-yard touchdown catch where he lined up wide left with no defender nearby so he waved at Kerry Collins to make sure the quarterback saw him.
No one’s left him that wide-open since.
Johnson finished 2009 with 11 straight games of 100-yards rushing and needs only three more to match the NFL record for consecutive 100-yard games set by Barry Sanders in 1997. He set the NFL record for yards from scrimmage with 2,509 yards and became the league’s first player to rush for at least 2,000 yards (2,006) and have 500 yards receiving. He also was the only unanimous pick to the All Pro team.