Warmack Gives Chris Johnson A Chance To Be Great Again
I mentioned Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson the other day and my friend said he was washed up. I didn't really agree and a mini-debate ensued. The root of my rebuttal: rookie first-round draft pick Chance Warmack.
However, my friend did have a point; Johnson's numbers haven't been great over the last three seasons. The six-year veteran hasn't come close to touching 1,500 rushing yards (1,364 in 2010) in the last three years, and over that stretch he's averaged only 4.3 yards per carry and 7 touchdowns per season. We have to go all the way back to 2009 for evidence of an excellent season from Johnson -- 2,006 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns and 5.6 yard per carry.
Obviously, Johnson's production (or lack of) has something to do with the Titans' offensive line. Tennessee made G Chance Warmack a priority, picking him 10th overall from two-time BCS Champ Alabama, and Johnson sent out a "THANK GOD" tweet right after his team picked him.
Johnson wants to provide Tennessee with more of a ground game and Warmack might be the guy to give him some extra space to run, both outside and up the middle.
Warmack was probably one of the most sensible selections of the entire 2013 NFL Draft, as far as immediate importance. He was an integral component in helping the Crimson Tide gain 5,973 rushing yards over the last two years. He has a big gut, but opened even larger holes in opposing defenses. In 2011, Trent Richardson, now with the Cleveland Browns, rushed for 1,740 yards and 21 touchdowns behind Warmack. In 2012, Alabama had the one-two running back punch of Eddie Lacy (1,360 yards, 17 TD) and T.J. Yeldon (1,131 yards, 12 TD).
The NFL is a jump in competition for rookies, but many say that the last two Alabama squads could have beaten the bottom third of the NFL. Warmack and the Tide dominated the BCS, so Warmack should have no trouble fitting into Tennessee's offensive game plan. Johnson might be able to see the light at the end of the 2,000-yard rushing tunnel in 2013 with Warmack pushing on the inside. While Johnson was once referred to as "CJ2K," he's been more like "CJNoK" lately.
The Titans were 8-8 and missed the playoffs in 2009, but Johnson had his best individual season, carrying the ball 358 times and being named the Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year. At the time, Tennessee's offensive line consisted of C Kevin Mawae, G Leroy Harris, T David Stewart, G Eugene Amano, T Troy Kropog, C Frenando Velasco, T Michael Otto and T Michael Roos. The current depth chart lists Roos, Stewart, and Velasco as starters, and Otto and Amano as second string. Andy Levitre, Rob Turner, Kasey Studdard, Chris Spencer, Byron Stingly, and Daniel Baldridge became Titans after the 2009 season.
If Tennessee still has five offensive linemen from the 2009 roster, then why hasn't the rushing game improved? That question must run through Johnson's head all of the time. The Titans' rushing totals in 2012 were 905 yards less than 2009, but maybe the team is just choosing to pass the ball more often. However, 2012's yards through the air were only 292 more than 2009.
How does Warmack compare to Levitre and Turner, and is Turner's starting role in trouble?
Tennessee just signed Levitre in March for six years and $46.8 million, so he should have his starting position at LG come September. He's started every game for the Buffalo Bills since 2009, helping Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller become better backs. Turner has been in the NFL since 2007, but had his first year as a full-time starter in 2012 with the St. Louis Rams. Warmack will be going for Turner's spot at RG.
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak, who was selected by the Oilers with the eighth overall pick in 1982, has said that he envisions the 2013 offensive line with Levitre at LG and Warmack at RG. "Even in the NFL, you don't see the kind of power he has, the way he moves the line of scrimmage," Munchak told AP after the draft. "To me, he's the complete package. He loves the game. He has a passion for it. Spending time with Bruce (Matthews) and I, he loved hearing the stories of linemen in the past and talking about the history of the game. For a young man, that's rare."
Warmack has strong force on the line, extending his arms to keep defenders away from the quarterback and running back. He's listed at 325 pounds, but is very mobile for that weight, constantly moving his hands and feet. Warmack has pancaked his share of defensive lineman.
Turner will fight for the RG position at camp, but the Titans are investing tons into Warmack. Levitre and Warmack will share the responsibility of getting Johnson to 2,000 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. If that happens, then a Johnson tweet might reading something like "HELL YEAH."
This is definitely an underrated sports debate, with the added fantasy football element. Will Chris Johnson become a facsimile of CJ2K with a much-improved offensive line? He's got a much better chance. I still say no. I was with the Titans in 2008 for his rookie season. He's not the same player now. Not as hungry, too consumed with ego, feels like he's got it down. Plus, the biggest thing is he tries too much to hit home runs and doesn't get enough singles. He loses yardage way too often. Like a poor man's Barry Sanders.