Chris Johnson's holdout is getting tiresome.
The daily ad nauseam talk-radio battle between the He-Should-Get-Paids and the I-Have-To-Honor-My-Contract-So-Why-Doesn't-Hes goes round and round in the most boring circuit since the Olympic 20-kilometer race walk.
First he wanted to be the highest-paid running back in league history, a benchmark the Titans were willing to meet. Now No-Show Johnson wants to be the highest paid playmaker — a quick scouring of NFL rosters reveals no such position on any team — and in the wake of Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's $120 million deal with $50 million guaranteed, that's a tougher pill for the Titans to swallow.
Meanwhile, lovable bird-flipping octogenarian owner Bud Adams says life's too short to wrinkle his ice-cream suit over the contract for one player.
Worst of all, Johnson hasn't even used his time off to record a follow-up to his June hip-hop single "Act on Deck," quite possibly the first song in rap history to repeatedly use a dial tone as its main beat. In retrospect, maybe that was an early sign he would keep the team cooling its heels all summer on call waiting.
The staring contest between the Titans and their star eased this week, as Johnson flew to Nashville late Tuesday to meet with general manager Mike Reinfeldt. In the meantime, the upside to CJ's training camp absence is that new Titans Coach Mike Munchak has been able to try out his rookie backs a little more than usual in the preseason.
In the second preseason game at St. Louis, with Johnson still in Orlando and primary backup Javon Ringer injured, fourth-round pick Jamie Harper got his shot. With the desperation of a man who knows his chances to make a team are limited, Harper shone with 83 yards on 11 carries, with a dazzling 46-yard run leading the highlights package.
Harper has pushed himself to the top of the heap to be, presumably, the third option in the Titans backfield — a shame for Herb Donaldson, who, despite his name, is a career journeyman and practice-squad player, not a 1970s news anchor.
Harper's not the only rookie from this year's draft class who's shown early promise. First-round pick Jake Locker has acquitted himself well as a first-time signal caller. Primed to back up Matt Hasselbeck, Locker impressed in the first preseason game, and while there was a statistical fall-off against the Rams, he was forced into action early when Hasselbeck had the wind knocked out of him. One of the biggest knocks on Hasselbeck is his inability to take one, so the poise Locker showed off the bench is reason to breathe easier.
Second-round linebacker Akeem Ayers looks like he'll earn a starting spot. But in terms of value, perhaps the best pick has been Karl Klug. The Minnesota-born University of Iowa product was destined for the defensive line the moment his parents named him Karl Klug. There is no chance anyone named Karl Klug has ever returned kickoffs.
Klug slipped to the Titans in the fifth round, primarily due to concerns he was undersized for defensive tackle at 275 pounds. Even so, Klug was likely to make the team anyway. The Titans look to continue their strategy of constant rotation on the defensive line — even after the departure of longtime line coach Jim Washburn — and Klug was needed if only to beef up the numbers.
But on the field, the Titans got a pleasant surprise: What Klug gives up in weight, he makes up in energy. He is constantly in the backfield or around the ball, and being on the relatively light side is something of an advantage here. Not having to lug around more than 300 pounds, Klug can play at high speed, pursuing the quarterback or ball carrier with the reckless abandon of a man scared he'll be sent back to Caledonia, Minn., if he's not careful.
Other late-round picks — particularly linebacker Colin McCarthy and defensive back Tommie Campbell — have also shown enough gumption that they may be around for the long haul. Nevertheless, without Johnson, it's difficult to predict a win total. And regrettably, an excellent draft class doesn't make a bad team a Super Bowl contender. Once the actual season begins, some of the aforementioned players may be relegated to special teams duty.
So enjoy the exuberance of youth. Someday soon — PDQ — the FAQ about CJ will be rendered a CWOT. OK? For now, take a page from the playbook of Chairman Bud: Life's too short to worry about one guy.
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