Titans focus on run game to boost offense, team
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans want to get back to what they used to do best, and that’s run the football.
Under a mandate from the general manager and head coach, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has put together a playbook designed to make the most of a revamped offensive line, Chris Johnson and his new backup, Shonn Greene.
That should help ease the growing pains for quarterback Jake Locker in his third season and boost an offense last in the league in time of possession. The Titans haven’t ranked in the league’s top 10 for running the ball since 2009, when Johnson ran for 2,006 yards.
“We want to be able to run the ball when we want to and when we need to,” Loggains said Tuesday.
General manager Ruston Webster revamped the offensive line, making the Titans bigger and hopefully much better with three free agents, including new left guard Andy Levitre. He signed Greene to work with Johnson and drafted guard Chance Warmack at No. 10 overall. Loggains, promoted to coordinator with five games left last season, put together his own playbook with the emphasis on running first.
The design is to help the Titans stay on the field longer than the 27 minutes, 18 seconds they managed in 2012 while going 6-10.
Johnson likes what he sees so far and believes it will help him be more effective.
“I can say that because last year ... we basically were trying to turn into like a passing team,” Johnson said. “Coming in this year, it’s going to be a run-first offense.”
Between 2006 and 2009, when head coach Mike Munchak was the team’s offensive line coach, the Titans ranked no worse than seventh in rushing. That includes Johnson’s rookie season in 2008 on a team that went 13-3 when he split carries with LenDale White, and 2009, when Johnson became the sixth man to run for at least 2,000 yards in a season.
Tennessee slipped to 17th in 2010, 31st in 2011 and managed a rebound to 21st last season despite losing four starting offensive linemen to injuries.
Now running is such a big focus for the Titans that Loggains said it’s what they talked about first in the offense’s initial meeting this offseason. They just started walking through some of the playbook Monday in the latest phase of the offseason program.
Even with the signing of Greene, Johnson remains the Titans’ franchise running back. He ranked fifth in the AFC and ninth in the league in 2012, running for 1,243 yards for the third-best season of his career. Only Adrian Peterson reached 6,000 yards rushing in fewer games (63) than Johnson (70). Eric Dickerson, LaDanian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith, Earl Campbell and Walter Payton ran for more during their first five seasons than Johnson (6,888).
Johnson also ranks fifth with 8,546 yards from scrimmage in his first five seasons, and that’s why Loggains wants to move the running back around a bit more. Johnson has 230 career receptions for 1,658 yards, but caught only 36 passes last season.
“We need to get him the ball,” Loggains said.
The challenge will come later this season splitting up the carries between Johnson, who wants the ball as much as possible, and Greene, who ran for 1,063 yards and eight touchdowns with the Jets in 2012. Loggains describes the 5-foot-11, 226-pound Greene as a “change-of-pace” back and won’t put a number on how many carries either Johnson or Greene might wind up with per game.
“We’re going to try to use both their strengths as much as possible,” Loggains said.
Johnson seems to have his own ideas as a three-time Pro Bowl running back.
“Everybody needs a backup running back,” Johnson said. “I’m sure they’ve seen a lot of good things in (Greene), and hopefully he can come in and help this team.”
The Titans averaged 137.4 yards rushing per game in 2008, when they earned home-field advantage for the playoffs after a 10-0 start. Johnson now sees a roster possibly as talented as that group from his rookie year. But Johnson, who said Munchak talked to him about being more of a leader both on and off the field going into his sixth season, isn’t making any predictions.
Not even about how many yards rushing he wants this season.
“I feel like things we have done gave us a chance to take the next step,” Johnson said. “Like I been saying, we still got a lot of work to do. Everything looks good on paper. We still have to go out and work hard and prove it on Sunday.”
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker