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Notebook: CJ, Titans Gaining Familiarity with 3-4 Defenses

Posted Sep 20, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The stretch of road games that’s kept the Titans away from LP Field for nearly a month seemed long, but it pales in comparison to the number of Tennessee’s opponents that use a 3-4 base defensive front.

Pittsburgh and Houston did against the Titans, and so do the Chargers, who visit LP Field at noon (CT) Sunday. The Titans will also see 3-4 defenses against the Jets and Chiefs during Tennessee’s three-game homestand before seeing a 4-3 front for the first time of the regular season in Seattle on Oct. 13.

Running back Chris Johnson said it has required a period of adjustment from all the time spent going against Tennessee’s 4-3 base front during training camp.

“We’re used to it by now, so hopefully we’ll have success for it against this 3-4 team,” Johnson said.

Johnson has rushed 25 times in both games so far this season, churning out 70 against the Steelers and 96 against the Texans, two defenses that have shown to be solid against the run.

The 50 attempts for Johnson reflect Tennessee’s commitment to establishing the run as well as the Week 1 knee injury suffered by Shonn Greene that required a surgical procedure this Monday, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. Greene will be out again at least this week.

Johnson’s 166 rushing yards ranked second in the AFC (prior to Kansas City’s game Thursday night), but he and the Titans would like to boost his 3.3 yards per carry average by finding him space to break the type of big play he’s become famous for delivering. So far, the longest carry is 16 yards, but Johnson is maintaining layers of patience and persistence.

“It’ll come. It’s a long season. I know last year, in the first three games I had 45 yards,” Johnson said. “I know we’re working and getting better every week. In both of those games there were opportunities for the big one. We’ve just got to keep working. It’s something that I’m not out there trying to look for the big runs. I’m going to let it come to me.”

The Titans offense has protected the ball, completely avoiding turnovers in both games, but would like to add a few more chunk plays to the mix. Tennessee has two plays of 20 yards for more (which is tied for the lowest in the league) and is one of eight teams still looking for a gain of 40 or more yards.

“I really thought there’d be more of them by now. As a coach, you always hope for the best. I think they’ll come,” Munchak said. “We’re not pressuring saying we have to have them, but it’ll help change momentum in a game. We had a little taste of that in preseason and saw how much the momentum changes and the adrenaline and the confidence.”

Munchak pointed out there’s also value in long touchdown drives like the Titans’ first possession and Tennessee’s 99-yard drive in the fourth quarter at Houston, as well as plays like Alterraun Verner’s 23-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Texans. The 99-yard drive benefitted from a 31-yard pass from Jake Locker to Nate Washington (Tennessee’s longest gain of the young season).

WRIGHT “A FULL GO”: The most important pass for Kendall Wright Friday was clearing a concussion test that permitted him to practice fully. The second-year pro missed Wednesday and Thursday after experiencing a headache Tuesday.

Wright suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit from Texans CB Kareem Jackson Sunday but finished the game and was fine Monday. Munchak said the Titans wanted to take precaution with the 2012 first-rounder who leads last year’s draft class with 73 receptions. Wright had seven catches for 54 yards, including the play on which he suffered the hit, and a touchdown against Houston.

“I definitely wanted to be out there Wednesday and Thursday but I knew I didn’t have a concussion. I had to go through all the steps just so I could get back out there,” Wright said. “I had to get cleared by a neurologist at Saint Thomas and he told me I didn’t have a concussion.”

While he missed two days of practice reps, Wright participated in all meetings and walk-throughs this week to prepare for San Diego.

“I know what I’m supposed to be doing out there,” Wright said. “It’s not like I’m lost.”

ANTONIO JOHNSON TO FILL IN FOR HILL: Munchak said defensive tackle Sammie Hill, who suffered an ankle injury on a cut block against Houston, will be out this week. Veteran Antonio Johnson, who like Hill was brought in through free agency this offseason, handled a significant amount of snaps Hill would have taken last week and is likely to do the same this week.

“He had about 25 reps or so in that area, so we see him with the same role this week,” Munchak said. “It’s good that we have him. We need his size. We need his experience. He’ll help us clog things up in the middle for the run game.”

Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said part of the plan is for the other defensive tackles (Jurrell Casey, Karl Klug and Mike Martin) to penetrate the “fortress” of San Diego’s interior offensive line while Johnson acts as more of an anchor.

NOTES: Linebacker Zach Brown (illness Wednesday) practiced fully and is probable, rookie LB Zaviar Gooden (ankle) is questionable but both fully practiced Friday. … WR Damian Williams (hamstring) practiced fully and is probable after missing last week’s game. … RT David Stewart (calf) did not practice Friday after fully practicing Thursday and is questionable. Stewart played every offensive snap against the Texans, despite missing practices last week. … Rookie CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson (hamstring) did not practice and is questionable.

“He didn’t finish practice (Thursday). He didn’t practice today, so we listed him as questionable,” Munchak said. “He’s the one guy we’ll probably have to wait until game time to see how he is.”

Game Rewind: Tennessee Titans

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