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With deal done, Chris Johnson returns to Titans
NASHVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Chris Johnson has his four-year contract extension worth $53 million and the $30 million guaranteed he wanted. Now it’s time for the Titans running back to get busy learning the changes Tennessee made to the offense while he stayed away.
Johnson arrived in Nashville on Friday afternoon and headed to the Titans to sign his extension through 2016 and take a physical.
New coach Mike Munchak said Johnson likely will be spending some extra time with running backs coach Jim Skipper over the next few days. Johnson also has lots of new people to introduce himself to with offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. But Munchak isn’t worried about the three-time Pro Bowler getting up to speed by the opener Sept. 11 at Jacksonville.
“He is here 10 days before we have to play a game so he has quite a bit of time to get ready to play,” Munchak said.
Munchak said finally getting Johnson back with the team feels like getting the last piece of the puzzle, and that’s because Johnson has meant so much to the Tennessee offense since he was drafted 24th overall in 2008. Johnson leads the NFL with 4,598 yards rushing over the past three seasons. The Titans return all five starting offensive linemen from a year ago when Johnson ran for 1,364 yards, and they opened some big holes in the preseason.
“I know he’s explosive and electric, and I can’t wait to see him play real soon,” Hasselbeck said.
Johnson stayed busy working out in Orlando during the NFL lockout and his contract holdout. Munchak said all eyes will be on Johnson to see how he responds to everything he’s going to do but that the Titans will use the same approach they used in training camp to ease in veterans not allowed to practice until the new labor deal was final.
The key will be avoiding an injury neither the Titans nor Johnson can afford entering the regular season.
“Work him in and be smart and find out exactly what kind of shape he’s in and where he’s at as far as football shape, and we’ll go from there deciding how much he’s going to play, how much he’s going to do, what position to put him in and be smart about it,” Munchak said.
As a running back, Munchak said Johnson will have an easier time learning the changes in the offense than a receiver forced to learn pass routes. But the coach said Johnson will have some growing pains as he works to pick up the offense.
Johnson should come in focused now that his new deal will average $13.38 million a year over the next four years and $9.25 million per year over the six years taking him through 2016. The $30 million guaranteed is what he said he wanted back in 2010 when he first talked of wanting a new contact.
Now Johnson can focus on football and possibly Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, which he publicly targeted and missed each of the past two seasons.
“He’ll want to prove because that’s the kind of player he is,” Munchak said. “He’s not very bashful when it comes to what he thinks he can accomplish, and that’s a good thing so we’re going to have to be careful to make sure we don’t over do it, especially early.”
Notes: Munchak said he expects defensive end Jason Jones (knee) and Jacob Ford (hamstring) to be ready for Jacksonville. DE Derrick Morgan, who had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Monday, will not play in the opener.
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