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Notebook: Titans Want to Rev Run Game with Chris Johnson & Shonn Greene

Posted Oct 31, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — There was a gleam in Chris Johnson’s eyes as the Titans running back explained how much he was looking forward to playing on synthetic turf this Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

“Any time you can play on a fast surface, and at the same time, you don’t have to worry about the weather, that’s always a good thing,” the speedy Johnson said.  

That’s not the only encouraging element for Johnson as the Titans (3-4) return to action after their bye week by visiting the Rams (3-5).

Titans coaches and players said they felt like the running game improved against San Francisco on Oct. 20 but opportunities were limited because the 49ers seized a 17-0 lead by halftime that dictated the flow of the game.

“I think we did a lot better. It’s just the opportunities,” Johnson said. “We didn’t get enough opportunities and that’s because the score wasn’t really close so anytime it’s like that, you’ve got to go one-dimensional and pass the ball so I don’t think we had many opportunities.”

Tennessee averaged 5.4 yards (its second-most this season) on its 13 attempts and believes it can build on the things that worked well against a St. Louis team that ranks 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game but held Seattle to 44 rushing yards on 15 carries Monday.

Johnson said he was excited about the opportunity to go against former Titans/Oilers coach Jeff Fisher for the first time.

“He’s the one that drafted me. He’s a great guy,” Johnson said. “I love him to death. Any time you face him, it’s going to be a very good game.”

Johnson said he also looks forward to going against a 4-3 defensive front for just the second time this season and a more comprehensive return for Shonn Greene, who had one carry against San Francisco in his first action since suffering a knee injury in the season opener.

“I think facing the 4-3 is much better because it’s less confusing,” Johnson said. “Any time you face a team with a 3-4 and they’re doing a lot of crazy stuff with the linebackers, it can easily confuse some guys, so I think facing a 4-3 is much better.

“Shonn is looking pretty good,” Johnson added. “He got back off the injury and it doesn’t look like he’s lost a step or anything like that. He’s been looking smooth.”

Greene said he’s doing “pretty well” and “felt good this whole week of practice.” The five-year NFL veteran who joined the Titans as a free agent this offseason said he prefers grass instead of the turf but is looking forward to teaming with Johnson in a tandem that can handle running as much as the Titans want.

“The way the game went we weren’t able to do what we wanted to, as far as rushing,” Greene said, “but just seeing in practice, we’re going to be doing a lot better, so hopefully in this game we can get the running game going and try and control the clock a little more and stay on the field.”

Titans coach Mike Munchak said Greene has been running hard in practice and looks “exactly how we hoped he would.” Munchak said the Titans would love to have about 35 rushing plays each week, with Johnson taking about 20 or so and being involved in the passing game, where he’s taken two short throws for long TDs in the past three games, and have Greene handle about 15 carries.

Tennessee rushed 42 times in the season opener, followed by 33, 29, 31, 22, 20 and 13 carries in the six ensuing weeks. Johnson’s carries have been 25, 25, 19, 15, 10, 12 and nine in games this season.

Thus, the goal of adding Greene isn’t to diminish Johnson’s role, it’s actually to create more opportunities to run the football.

“We need to get in a groove where we get some drives where we can start inserting (Greene) because we’ve got to give CJ an opportunity too,” Munchak said. “It’s hard to not keep him in there.”

AGAINST THE RUN: The Titans took notice of the 26-carry, 134-yard rushing performance delivered by Rams rookie and former Vanderbilt star Zac Stacy against the Seahawks Monday. Stacy sparked a Rams rushing attack that gained 200 yards on 37 carries.

“He can make a lot of guys miss and is also very powerful so he’s going to try to run through you. It’s going to be a good challenge going against a back like that,” defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. “He’s doing a great job for them so far. For a young guy, he’s got a lot of talent. I think he’s going to be good.”

Linebacker Colin McCarthy, who is likely to make his second consecutive start in place of Moise Fokou, said Stacy’s success stemmed from vision and execution.

“If it’s a designed run going one way, he sees a crease and will cut it back,” McCarthy said. “He’s not hesitant. He comes downhill and hits the hole, so defensively we’ve got to be gap-sound and make sure we get more than one guy to the football, but he’s a good running back.

“Their running backs were finding holes and offensive linemen were staying on blocks,” McCarthy said. “They’re not big maulers but they do a good job of staying on people and shielding them off so we’ve got to get off blocks, get the runner on the ground and eliminate big plays.”

SAFETY CHECK: Michael Griffin didn’t practice for a second straight day because of a quadriceps injury suffered against the 49ers.

“We’ll see how he is (Friday). The power of positive thinking, I think he’s hoping it works out like it did for Jake (Locker),” Munchak said. “So, it’s hard when you don’t practice until Friday, but we’ve just got to see where he is tomorrow.”

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said the options the Titans would have include George Wilson and Corey Lynch, as well as Alterraun Verner, who took a significant amount of snaps at free safety during the offseason when he was also battling for the cornerback spot he won.

In addition to Fokou and Griffin, Kamerion Wimbley (excused for a personal reason) did not practice Thursday. Click here for the full injury report.

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