The Tennessee Titans have quantified
Chris Johnson's value as a football player, signing the versatile former
East Carolina star to a $12 million contract over five years.
That's roughly the price tag of the
upper deck at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium and works out to more than twice the
annual salary of Pirates coach Skip Holtz. Twelve million bucks is the
value of 48,000 football season tickets at East Carolina.
That's twice the price of Lee Majors'
bionic components in the TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man.
More importantly, Johnson's contract
expresses in monetary terms the sizeable void that ECU must fill in
terms of offensive production this season. The fleet feet in Johnson's
cleats means the Pirates have some big shoes to fill.
Johnson did a lot of everything for the
Pirates during a four-year career and may indeed qualify as the best
thing that former ECU coach John Thompson ever did for the program —
sign the speedster out of Olympic High in Orlando, FL.
Many schools overlooked Johnson, who
fractured a fibula and missed four games in his senior season in high
school. But former Pirate defensive coordinator Jerry Odom did the leg
work in signing Johnson and Johnson certainly did the leg work in his
four seasons in purple and gold.
Despite weighing just 175 pounds as a
prepster, Johnson could bench press 315 pounds. He could also traverse
40 yards in 4.4 seconds, a time he later reduced at the NFL combine to
4.24 seconds to earn the distinction of being the fastest man available
in the 2008 NFL draft.
Johnson went 24th overall in the first
round, putting him tied with linebacker Robert Jones in the 1992 draft
as the highest selection from ECU.
Johnson's emergence just shows that not
having four stars beside your name on the prominent football recruiting
websites doesn't prohibit players from making it big.
Current Big East programs Connecticut
and South Florida showed interest in Johnson but he chose the
opportunity to make it big at East Carolina — which he certainly did.
Johnson ran, caught and returned
kickoffs for 6,993 yards — almost four miles — in his ECU career.
Johnson's speed did a lot of things.
The offensive line didn't have to maintain blocks that long for him to
be effective. They just needed to give Johnson a quick seam in order for
something sensational to happen.
He was a great option releasing out of
the backfield when a quarterback's primary targets were covered
downfield, and when defenders didn't take the proper angle or failed to
contain Johnson, it was often six points for the Pirates.
Johnson has already done something with
the Titans that he did at ECU and that was change numbers. Johnson went
from No. 24 to No. 5 while with the Pirates. He reportedly paid
Tennessee teammate Chris Carr $5,000 for Carr's No. 28. Johnson was
initially assigned No. 29.
Holtz has said the Pirates aren't
looking to one player to fill Johnson's shoes. ECU will depend on a
committee that includes Dominique Lindsay, J.R. Rogers, Jonathan
Williams, Brandon Simmons and Norman Whitley at running back in 2008.
The Pirates should hope the multiple
running backs formula works as well as multiple quarterbacks did during
an 8-5 season in 2007, which culminated with a 41-38 win over Boise
State in the Hawaii Bowl in which that man Johnson set an NCAA bowl
record with 408 all-purpose yards.
Some reassuring thoughts for the
Pirates, whose challenging schedule provides at least a theoretical shot
at a BCS bowl, are that nine starters are back on defense along with
some key special teams performers — kicker Ben Hartman and punter Matt
Dodge. Patrick Pinkney showed unprecedented focus in the spring in
winning the quarterback job going into preseason camp, which starts
The receiving corps may be better, even
though the running backs and returning offensive linemen may not match
Johnson's rushing production.
The defense, which ranked 114th out of
119 Bowl Subdivision teams against the pass last season as it allowed an
average of 289 yards per game, will be helped greatly if a healthy
Marcus Hands can return to his freshman form when he had nine sacks in
eight games. Pressure on the opposing quarterback will be a key in
improving the pass defense.
ECU's run defense held foes to an
average of 142.2 yards per game, which ranked a respectable 50th in the
Bowl Subdivision. Maybe that was because they got practice tackling a
vapor in scrimmages when they faced Johnson.
SI picks ... Wariner
Sports Illustrated has picked all the
medal winners in the upcoming 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The
magazine's choice in the 400 meters is Jeremy Wariner.
Former East Carolina star
LaShawn Merritt is tabbed for silver and Chris Brown of
the Bahamas is predicted to take home the bronze medal.
The 400-meter final is scheduled to be
shown on NBC between 8 p.m. and midnight on Thursday, August 21.