Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson was a cursed man as he struggled early in the season, especially by fantasy league owners who drafted him in the top 10.
But “CJ2K,” who rushed for 2,006 yards in 2009, has rushed for more than 90 yards in four of his last five games. In his first three games, Johnson managed just 45 yards on 33 carries for a 1.4-yard average. Since then, he has averaged 5.6 yards per attempt.
Johnson has more rushing yards than anyone in the NFL since he entered the league in 2008 as the 24th overall pick after he ran a 4.24 time in the 40 at the Scouting Combine.
“He’s lightning,” Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said of the 5-foot-11, 191-pounder. “He can hit a hole with a great deal of quickness, but it’s his ability to cut back and break outside. He’s tough.”
Johnson’s 4 TD runs of 80 yards or longer are already the most in NFL history.
“Anytime he gets the ball, he can go the distance,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said, “so we have to be in our gaps and run to the football like we always do.”
Johnson also has 10 touchdown runs of 45 yards or longer, tied for third with O.J. Simpson in NFL history and trailing only Barry Sanders (18) and Jim Brown (13)
“He’s a home run hitter,” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “If he gets to our second level untouched, it’s going to be tough to get him.”
Second-year safety Chris Conte isn’t quite playing for free this week, but when you subtract his $21,000 fine for hitting a defenseless player from his $35,788 salary, he may have to tighten his belt a bit.
“I love football so I don’t mind it,” he said, “but I like to get paid.”
Conte is appealing the fine, which he first believed was a prank, and now he hopes at least to have it reduced.
“I thought someone was playing a joke on me,” he said. I didn’t think it was real. Then I realized it wasn’t a prank. It hurts a lot. That’s a big chunk of money, and I think it’s kind of unfair to fine a guy that’s still in his rookie contract that much money.”
Conte, who has never been fined before, admits he made contact with Panthers’ wide receiver Brandon LaFell’s head on the third-quarter play, which drew a personal foul penalty. But he insists there was no intent to injure and says he can’t change his style of play.
“I wasn’t leading with my head or anything,” he said. “You’ve got to play football the way you play football and be aggressive. I guess these things are just a part of the NFL now, and it comes with the job.”
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub said the Bears could see more teams imitate the Carolina Panthers’ ploy of utilizing short, squib kickoffs to avoid Devin Hester.
But don’t expect to see the ball lateraled back to Hester.
“We’re not going to do that,” Toub said. “You could, but it’s about ball security and getting the ball out as far as you can.”
The Panthers’ short kicks kept the ball out of Hester’s hands, but it allowed the Bears to start drives, on average, at the 33-yard line. They lead the NFL with an average start spot at the 26.4-yard line.
“It works for us,” Toub said. “We were loving it. That’s outstanding for your offense. (But) it was frustrating for Devin because he wants to get a return and (so does) the whole return unit.”
Linebacker Lance Briggs (toe), tight end Matt Spaeth (ankle) and offensive tackle Jonathan Scott (groin) all had full participation in Friday’s practice and are probable for Sunday. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) is out.
For the Titans, starting right guard Leroy Harris (knee) is out and starting right tackle David Stewart (knee) is questionable. Seven other starters are probable.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.