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CJ: Career-worst 4 yards on 11 carries looks bad

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)

Titans running back Chris Johnson knows the numbers look pretty bad.

The man nicknamed CJ2K for his 2,006-yard rushing season in 2009 started this season with just 11 carries for a career-worst 4 yards in a 34-13 loss to New England. As bad as last season was after his holdout for a contract extension, Johnson never ran for less than 13 yards in a game.

And he feels all eyes are on him when the offense struggles.

''When things don't go right, I know everything's going to get pointed at me because I'm the main focal point,'' Johnson said Thursday. ''I got a big contract or whatever. But at the end of the day, I just know I got to continue to work just like all my other offensive (teammates) here.''

After finishing last season with a career-low 1,047 yards, Johnson spent this offseason working in the Titans' program in Nashville and learning all the nuances of coordinator Chris Palmer's offense. Improving a running game that ranked next to last in the NFL was one of Tennessee's top goals as well.

The Titans started out the first drive with Johnson running five times for 13 yards. They quickly fell behind 21-3, and Johnson rushed only six more times the rest of the game. Johnson had a team-high six catches for 47 yards, but Palmer said obviously they have to run the ball better.

The good news is the Titans' issues can be fixed, even if the solution sounds similar to what they said all last season.

''We could sustain our blocks better, we could run the hole better we could make better calls,'' Palmer said. ''It's a combination of things. Everybody blames the quarterback when it's not complete. But is the protection all right?

''This is a team sport, and you need all 11 guys involved whether it be the run game or the pass game.''

Airing out the offense might help.

The Titans (0-1) have a young quarterback in Jake Locker, Kenny Britt's back from his torn right ACL in a good group of receivers and Jared Cook leads all tight ends with 399 yards receiving since Dec. 15. He had 64 yards receiving against New England, and Locker threw for 229 yards before being knocked out of the game early in the fourth quarter.

Coach Mike Munchak saif the Titans want to spread the field to run and pass as they did on their opening drive this season. They get their next chance to Sunday in San Diego (1-0) to see if they can do it more often.

''We're going to have to be able to do both, to spread the field more with the receivers,'' Munchak said. ''If we get Kenny back, that gives you another weapon to make teams worry about something that will hopefully make the run game easier. Hopefully that will just help us be more productive anyway.''

Ideally, the Titans would like Johnson to have 18 to 20 carries in a game. They managed that five times last season, and Tennessee won each game. Johnson finished with at least 100 yards rushing in four of those.

NFL coaches still do focus on stopping Johnson first. He may be in his fifth season, but coaches have seen the highlights of Johnson breaking loose for long touchdowns. Only Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and O.J. Simpson had more career TD runs of 45 yards or longer than he had in his first four seasons.

Chargers coach Norv Turner has seen Johnson firsthand. Johnson ran for 142 yards in a Christmas night loss to San Diego in 2009 as he closed in on his 2,006-yard season with a long run of 30 yards, and the Chargers limited him to 59 yards on 15 carries in 2010 when these teams last met.

''We just have to be ready to do a great job against him,'' Turner said. ''You have to stop him at the point. You have to make sure he doesn't get outside and then as we know, he had the great cutback, misdirection, change of direction run against us when we played here a couple of years ago. Everyone has to be aware of where he is at and we have to do a great job of tackling.''

Johnson points out the good thing is it's only one game into the season, leaving them plenty of time to fix the run game.

''We got to execute our own plays no matter what they're trying to stop,'' Johnson said.

Notes: Locker handled a little more than half of the first-team reps in practice Thursday, and Munchak said the quarterback wasn't sore from Wednesday's session where he was limited with his injured left shoulder. He remains on target to start at San Diego barring a setback. ... WR Nate Washington (bruised leg) ran on a side field and is expected to practice Friday. LG Steve Hutchinson was given the day off. RG Leroy Harris (right knee) returned to practice. Starting MLB Colin McCarthy (right ankle) missed practice again and is doubtful. ... Munchak said RB Javon Ringer (infected left elbow) was back at the team headquarters Wednesday afternoon and will not play Sunday.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/teresamwalker

Tagged: Titans, Chris Johnson, Jake Locker

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