Chris Johnson Era Over in Tennessee

chris-johnson-titans-releasedIn a move that’s been rumored for months, the Tennessee Titans finally released their former starting running back, Chris Johnson. The Titans star was due $8 million in 2014, as part of the four-year, $53.5 million contract extention that he signed in 2011. So Tennessee wanted to dump Johnson before dedicating a large portion of their salary cap to him. Plus, offseason workouts with new head coach Ken Whisenhunt begin on Monday, so it’s likely that they wanted CJ2K gone by then.

Whisenhunt may have foreshadowed Johnson’s impending release back at the NFL Combine. When asked what he thought Johnson had left in the tank, the former Cardinals coach offered this bland response:

I can’t speak about what he has left in the tank, you never know about that, I know I see a player who is there every Sunday. He’s had a lot of success in the league, he has been to Pro Bowls, and you have a lot of respect for that. He practiced every day, from what I’ve seen of the records last year, and he played in a lot of games. He’s been a good football player.

Given his reluctance to say anything alluding to Johnson’s future with the team, you have to figure that Whisenhunt and the organization had other plans for a running back. So why keep Johnson one month after the free agency period started, when his prospects of getting a good deal are now diminished?

chris-johnson-titans-released-1Perhaps the Titans are still bitter about Johnson’s contract holdout before the 2011 season started? Maybe they’re further incensed that they paid him $8 million in 2012 and $9 million in 2013, all along expecting that magical 2009 season to resurface?

Speaking of which, the bar was set high for Johnson after he broke the single-season record for yards from scrimmage, previously held by Marshall Faulk. In the ’09 season, he rushed for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns, adding another 503 receiving yards.

To hear fans, broadcasters and fantasy football owners talk afterward, you’d have thought that Johnson completely gave up after setting the scrimmage yards record. But looking at the numbers, he was still a pretty good back for the Titans, never once dipping under 1,000 rushing yards in his six seasons there.

However, he was only an above-average runner over the past three seasons. In 2011, he tallied 1,047 yards and four TD’s on the ground, maintaining a fairly low 4.0 YPC average. 2012 saw Johnson improve after he generated 1,243 rushing yards (4.5 YPC) and six touchdowns. But 2013 was another downer as he turned in 1,077 rushing yards (3.9 YPC) and six TD’s. The 3.9 YPC average and Johnson’s inconsistently is ultimately what made him expendable as the team looks to restart under Whisenhunt.

So where can we expect to see the six-year veteran suiting up next. He’ll no doubt find a prominent role somewhere, given that he still has flashes of the record-setting 4.24 forty speed he showed at the 2008 NFL Combine. Case in point, he busted a 94-yard touchdown run two years ago on Monday Night Football.

chris-johnson-titans-released-2According to a recent CBS New York report, the New York Jets were inquiring about a trade before the Titans released Johnson. NFL insiders still expect the Jets to be pursuing the 28-year-old through free agency. With the oft-injured Chris Ivory as their current feature back, they’d like to add a more durable player like Johnson, who’s only missed one game in his entire career – a rarity for NFL running backs, especially one that weighs 203 pounds.

As CBS NY points out, New York also makes sense because they’re $25 million under the cap and can afford to spend some money on Johnson. Even if he just splits carries with Ivory, this would meet the Jets’ philosophy in 2014, which is to promote competition at every position.

Assuming the Jets and Johnson can’t come to terms, he’ll certainly be an attractive prospect to other NFL teams that are looking to shore up the running back spot.

Patric Young – The Massive Leader of Florida’s 2014 Final Four Run

patric-young-florida-2It was all too tempting for Patric Young to leave Florida three years ago. After all, he was a guaranteed NBA Lottery pick…at least that was what everybody was telling the Hercules-looking, 6’9″ center. Before coming to Florida, Young was always known for his physique and potential above anything else. The imposing, 6’9″, 249-pound center was even compared to Dwight Howard during his days as a lottery prospect.

However, Young made a decision that would turn out to be a great one for both he and his school – he came back to Florida for his sophomore year. Then, he made two more great decisions by returning as a junior and senior.

The 22-year-old is no longer projected as a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. In fact, DraftExpress predicts that he’ll go 39th overall in their 2014 mock draft, with a slew of underclassmen and foreign players projected ahead of him. But with his Gators team playing seventh-seeded Connecticut later today when the Final Four kicks off, NBA Draft positioning is about the furthest thing from his mind.

Instead, Young is worried about leading Florida to their first national title in seven years. The key word here is “leading,” a testament to how he’s polished both his game and patric-young-floridamental skills during four seasons in Gainesville. Now, what he does for the Gators goes beyond just his solid numbers, 10.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 1.1 BPG. The heavily muscled postman has also helped the younger Gators develop their games too.

Take freshman Chris Walker, for example. Much like Young, he was a McDonald’s All-American who came to Billy Donovan’s squad with much hype. However, he missed half of the regular season due to a combination of poor academics and improper benefits that he received from agents. When Walker finally suited up for Florida in early February, he didn’t have a clue as to what was going on – that is until Young took the 6’10” forward under his wing. Donovan discussed Young’s leadership with the following:

He (Walker) had no idea about anything. He didn’t know how we stretched, how we lifted weights. He did not know any drill in practice. He didn’t know what we were doing on offense, defense. Didn’t know how to guard a pick and roll…As a coach, we spent a lot of time with Chris trying to get him caught up on what we do. What was probably more impactful for Chris was the amount of time that Patric spent with him, explained to him why it’s important to stretch, how to go about stretching, how to get yourself ready to play, how to get yourself ready for practice, not showing up 15 minutes before we practice to get taped, but get here 45 minutes or an hour [early], get out on the court. Patric has spent a lot of time helping him. That’s just the way Patric is as a kid. It probably has less to do with Chris Walker and much, much more to do with Patric. I think if any player was here with the situation that Chris Walker was in, Patric would do it.

To see Young’s transformation as a project with amazing physical tools to somebody who’s leading others during Florida’s potential national championship run is amazing. This is especially the case when you consider how many things Young himself needed to learn when he first came to Florida.

As his mother, Benita Young, recalls, Patric had to learn that he couldn’t just get by with size and strength any more. “He was big enough and good enough that nobody ever worked on the fine points,” Bennita said. “Billy Donovan told us they were going to have to rebuild his game. What? Rebuild? That’s hard. Hard for anyone to hear that you’re not good enough.”

Coming into Florida, Young was expected to dominate right off the bat. However, he learned the hard way after a freshman season in which he averaged just 3.4 PPG and 3.8 RPG. He experienced a big jump in numbers after averaging 10.2 PPG and 6.4 RPG in his sophomore campaign. However, the education was far from complete as Donovan constantly challenged him, telling Young that he needed to put small injuries out of his mind and keep playing hard. Donovan also had a closed-door meeting with Patric during his sophomore year to light a fire under him.

patric-young-florida-1“He fought Billy a lot,” Bennita said. “I talked and talked to Billy. I have great respect for Coach Donovan.” Patric’s mother also spoke about his decision to stay at Florida for four years by adding, “It was absolutely the right thing for him to spend this time in school. He needed to get a little stronger and put his armor on. He would have failed as a 19-year-old playing with 25- and 30-year-olds.”

With his four-year journey at Florida nearing an end, Young will hope to cap his career off with a title. He, along with fellow seniors Will Yeguete, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin, need to win just two more games to make it happen. Of course, this won’t be easy as they’re facing a traditional powerhouse in Connecticut tonight.

Provided they win, they’ll play the victor of the Wisconsin, Kentucky game. The latter is loaded with young NBA talent while the Badgers feature a very experienced squad that’s capable of grinding out victories against the best. But whether Florida wins it all or not. Patric Young can be proud of all that he’s accomplished in his four years with the Gators.