NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — His motivation is at an all-time high.
Chris Johnson knows what a lot of people are saying about him.
Maybe he’s lost a step. He’ll never be the electrifying playmaker he once was.
Well, the New York Jets running back is listening — and can’t wait to silence the critics.
“It’s always great to have things to put a chip on your shoulder, have things to motivate you,” Johnson said Thursday during a conference call. “I can turn the bad things people are saying into a good thing for me … and prove the naysayers wrong.”
Johnson was signed Wednesday to a two-year deal after he was released by the Tennessee Titans on April 7. He said there were other teams interested, but New York was his first — and, it turned out, only — visit.
“I felt like I was at home,” he said.
Johnson finished with 1,077 yards — the second-lowest total of his career — and a career-worst 3.9-yard average last season. He rushed for 100 or more yards just twice.
But he also played with a torn meniscus in his left knee, which was surgically repaired after the season, and believes he would’ve rushed for at least 1,200 yards if not for the injury. Johnson said the knee is “getting better and better” every day and is “pretty close” to being healthy.
“I know there’s a lot of people out there that still believe in me, including the Jets,” Johnson said. “That’s why they wanted to bring me in.”
Johnson denied a report that suggested he has arthritis in the knee, saying he wouldn’t have passed his physical with the Jets if there were major concerns.
He rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009, when he earned his popular “CJ2K” nickname. Johnson is just the sixth player in NFL history to start his career with six straight 1,000-yard seasons, and he has never missed a game because of injury.
“I know the type of player I am, and it’s a situation where once you run for 2,000 yards, you set an expectation for yourself,” Johnson said. “So anytime you don’t get 2,000 yards, it’s a situation where people are going to say, ‘Oh, is he the same guy? Is he this? Is he that?’
“The reason I can say I’m the same guy is once you run for 2,000 yards the whole focus is on you, to stop you.”
Johnson could be the perfect complement to the bruising Chris Ivory and versatile Bilal Powell in the Jets’ backfield for coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
If healthy, Johnson is a threat to break a long run every time he touches the ball, whether it’s taking a handoff from Geno Smith or Michael Vick, or catching a short pass. He had 42 receptions for 345 yards and four touchdowns a year ago.
After balking at the idea of sharing carries last season in Tennessee, Johnson insists that won’t be an issue in New York.
“It’s just a situation from talking to Rex and talking to Marty that they’ll put everybody in the best position to help the Jets win,” he said. “That’s what really mattered at the end of the day to me, was going to a team that was a winning program and has a chance of being a contender.”
He praised Ryan’s aggressive approach and said the Jets have a great defense, and “they know how to win over there.”
Johnson is third on the Titans’ career rushing list behind Eddie George and Earl Campbell and was a popular figure in Tennessee. But the Titans cut ties with him to avoid paying the $8 million he was due for this season, along with the final three seasons left on the $53.5 million contract he signed in September 2011.
Johnson repeatedly said he wouldn’t take a pay cut this offseason, prompting the Titans to explore trade options. When they found no fits, they released him, ending a six-year stint on what might have been a bitter note.
“I really don’t want to go back and talk about some of the situations that happened or criticize the Tennessee organization,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’ve moved on and closed that chapter in my career.”
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