NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The way the Jets see it, the sky is still the limit for Chris Johnson, regardless of his age and the fact that so many people think he’s lost a step.
Running backs coach Anthony Lynn is convinced the player who rushed for only 1,077 yards last season with the Tennessee Titans is definitely not the running back the Jets will see when the 2014 regular season finally rolls around. That’s not to say he’ll be the 2,000-yard back he was in 2009 either, but somewhere in between is not out of the realm of possibility.
“He’s got plenty left in the tank based on what I saw on tape,” Lynn told the Daily News on Monday. “He obviously played hurt last year. He could have had surgery and sat out. He chose to compete and show up every Sunday. I like the way he played through that and competed. He played last year pretty damn good with a bad knee. His numbers were down but he chose to play through that injury, which was really impressive to me.”
Johnson, who had 7,965 rushing yards during his first six NFL seasons, averaged a career-low 3.9 yards per carry in 2013, but the Titans really didn’t have an explosive offense, especially at quarterback, so a lot of teams keyed on Johnson. Lynn said given the work the Jets have done in the offseason bringing in skill position players, Johnson could flourish in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense.
“The reason he’s on this team is because he’s explosive,” Lynn said. “The (primary) thing we wanted to do as an offense was to get more explosive. We liked the players we had, but we wanted to add some speed and some playmakers. Yes, he is still explosive.
“I know that he’ll play at a high level here, because he’ll be coached to play at a high level,” Lynn added. “From Rex (Ryan) to Marty (Mornhinweg) to me, he’ll be coached to play at a high level. And that (running backs) room right now is so competitive that if you’re not playing at a high level, it’s going to be hard to get on the field.”
The Jets stand to have a bruising running game — with Johnson, Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, but how the carries will be divided up will depend on who wants them the most. While most running backs tend to begin to run out of gas when they near 30, Lynn said Johnson, who will turn 29 in September, has shown no signs of a significant drop-off.
“He’s definitely going to get the ball. So, it’s what he does with the ball. … He can have as many yards as he wants,” Lynn said. “He wants every single rep. That’s the type of attitude most running backs have. They want every single rep. I think that’s good. I think that’s healthy. It just means that he’s competitive. But how we split those up remains to be seen. By the time we go through the process, the cream will rise to the top like it always does. We’ll go ahead with a couple guys. And then they’ll do it by committee anyway.”
Once known as one of the fastest running backs in the NFL, Johnson has always been a superior receiver out of the backfield as well, hauling in 272 passes, or slightly more than 45 per season. To put that in perspective, the Jets’ leading receiver last season, Jeremy Kerley, had just 43 receptions. Lynn said if Johnson can be that double threat and stay healthy the by-committee approach doesn’t have to apply.
“We’ve always played the hot guy,” Lynn added. “It doesn’t matter who it is. If you go in there and produce, you usually stay in.”
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