The Tennessee Titans gave running back Chris Johnson a 5-year, $53 million extension following the 2011 season. Now they're looking to diversify their running game by adding a back for short-yardage situations to complement their star. Speaking to the media today, Titans' GM Ruston Webster and head coach Mike Munchak said that Tennessee would look to add a running back, either through the draft or free agency.
In a report filed by the National Football Post, Munchak talked about the organization's desire to try and limit the wear-and-tear on Johnson's body.
"The mission is two-fold: Don't overuse him, but don't cut down on his touches, but maybe throw to him more out of the backfield and find different ways to use him to get him out in space"
The Titans can't afford to wear down Johnson. With 1,463 carries in his first five seasons, he's been the linchpin to their offense while their passing game develops. Averaging 1,388 yards per-year, his production over this period is eclipsed only by 2012 MVP Adrian Peterson.
2008 was the only year Chris Johnson benefited from having a true change-of-pace back. Finishing with 200 carries, LenDale White was used in goal-line situations, and short-yardage plays which limited the damage on the then-rookie Johnson. The need for a situational back has never been filled, and most recent option Javon Ringer was ineffective in 2011, and missed the majority of 2012 due to a MCL injury.
There are a variety of options the Titans could pursue. With several short-yardage backs being slated for the mid-rounds of the draft, there's ample opportunity for the front office to find one. In addition, teams have until March 12th to get under the NFL's salary cap, and the cuts surrounding the deadline could play a role too. One team to watch is the Carolina Panthers, who have over-committed to their running back position, and new general manager Dave Gettleman needs to make a long-term decision on keeping both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Webster and Munchak's concerns for Chris Johnson are prudent, and the plan to try and use Johnson as their open-field back is a smart decision to keep their offense moving and defenses confused.
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