He will join an already competent offensive line that ranked among the best in the league in pass protection in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus’ offensive line rankings. Run blocking was another story altogether. They ranked just 18th in the league in that department while recording a sixth-place mark in pass protection.
It is never wise to criticize the guys up front paving the way for you; Johnson did just that in the early goings of last season. He said he didn’t want to point fingers, but kind of did in the same breath:
I wouldn't sit here and say I'm to blame. I wouldn't think so, but I'm not the guy to sit here and be the guy that points fingers and things like that. It's just a situation where I'm going to be only as good as my line's going to be. So we've got to work together and get better together.
Will Brinson of CBS Sports broke down Johnson’s early-season blocking and concurred with the back that, at the time, he wasn’t getting the support he needed to be successful.
His frustration may have been pointed in the right direction, but things turned around for the struggling back as the season progressed. Attribute that to an increased workload, a more well-balanced game plan and a chip on the 27-year-old running back’s shoulder.
Despite some inept performances, he still managed to put up decent numbers, too, rushing for 1,243 yards on 276 attempts (4.5 yards per carry).
The biggest problem with his game last year was inconsistency. Levitre should come in and help by opening up lanes while pulling or simply moving defenders out of the way.
Let’s take a look at what Johnson has accomplished, what Levitre brings to the table and where the team's running game could be headed this season and in the future.
What has CJ2K already accomplished?
Things started out spectacularly for the shifty running back from East Carolina. His NFL Scouting Combine performance is still referenced as the goal for all athletes attempting to impress scouts during the pre-draft process.
He didn’t stop there, though. Johnson hit the NFL running, literally, as he has graced the end zone 44 times during five seasons with the Titans. In the process, he has accumulated over 6,000 rushing yards (6,888) and has missed just one game throughout his career.
Johnson is a durable, explosive and potentially game-changing running back. He is already ranked first in Titans franchise history (including Houston Oilers records) in single-season rushing yards (2,006 in 2009). He’s also ranked third for total rushing TDs (44), 100-yard rushing games (33) and rushing yards behind Earl Campbell and Eddie George.
His performance in 2009 ranks seventh all-time for all-purpose yards (2,509) in a season, trailing Josh Cribbs by one yard. Darren Sproles holds the record following a 2,696-yard performance in 2011.
Out with Steve Hutchinson, in with Levitre
Five-time All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson stepped away from the game, retiring just one day before the team inked free agent Andy Levitre to a long-term contract.
There is no doubting the impact Hutchinson made on the game. He was a dominant presence on the interior of the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks offensive lines. In Tennessee, he was never quite that dominant.
Hutchinson’s retirement made way for Levitre to come in and pave the way for a hopefully resurgent 2013 season for the Titans running game.
What Levitre adds to the line
Andy Levitre’s four seasons in Buffalo helped the former second-round pick develop into one of the premier pass-blocking interior linemen in the NFL. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the league’s very best pass-blocking guard in 2012. While their run-blocking evaluation of Levitre leaves something to be desired (39th overall at the position), he was a key part of a solid offensive line that helped produce the league’s sixth-best rushing attack.
Buffalo’s offense featured C.J. Spiller, a dynamic and quick cutback runner, much like Johnson, who benefited from the team’s stability along its offensive line. Spiller had a breakout season running behind Levitre, racking up, 1,244 yards on just 207 attempts (six yards per carry).
Johnson and the Titans needed a run-blocking guard to help bolster their running game. Will Levitre be the guy to help propel Johnson to his former heights?
CBS Sports' Dave Richard thinks so (via Twitter):
Stability and chemistry are huge factors that lead to offensive-line success or failure. Adding Levitre, a solid character guy and technically skilled player, will undoubtedly help bolster all aspects of the Titans' line. How he plays with his teammates and in his new system will be the biggest factors to a CJ2K resurgence, though.
Another aspect of this new Titans offensive line is tight end Delanie Walker. Walker will help as much as Levitre in sealing the edge to help spring Johnson to the next level.
While Levitre isn’t the dominant interior mauler that Johnson may have coveted when he let his team know what their offseason priorities should be, he is competent in that regard. He will help young quarterback Jake Locker, too, which will ultimately open things up more for the speedy running back.
Records were made to be broken
The 2013 season is looking like a bright one for Johnson. He will, more than likely, have another impressive season thanks to Levitre’s signing with the team. How great will it be, though?
With 44 career touchdowns, Johnson is in a good position to eclipse the 50 rushing TD milestone. He will definitely surpass the 7,000-yard mark next season, needing just 112 yards to do so. And, he is also primed to set some Titans records in the process.
He could potentially surpass Earl Campbells’s 8,574 career franchise rushing yards, but still has a ways to go to catch Eddie Georgel’s 10,009 yards mark. That’s not too far out of reach for an explosive runner like Johnson who still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
When all is said and done he could shatter those franchise records and raise himself into the upper echelons of NFL running back history.
All statistics and records information used are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
Are the Titans done improving their offensive line? Let us know what you think about the upcoming NFL draft, Levitre and Johnson's future with the Titans in the comments below.