Responding to multiple reports that painted the end days for running back Chris Johnson with the Tennessee Titans, head coach Ken Whisenhunt said no decision has been made.
Johnson, 28, rushed for 1,077 yards on 279 carries -- a career-worst 3.9 yards per carry one season after posting 1,243 yards on 276 carries.
Johnson, who had minor knee surgery in January, said he was underused in the Titans' offense and is open to being traded. Johnson turns 29 in September with more than 2,000 career touches in six seasons.
"I can't speak about what he has left in the tank, you never know. I know he's there every Sunday. He practiced every day from what I've seen looking at the (participation) charts," Whisenhunt said at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. "It's a process with everybody you go through with the football team. ... Putting together the team is no exact science. Certainly chemistry will be a part of it. We're under no deadline to do it."
General manager Ruston Webster said the Titans are going to "take a look at what's out there" at the running back position starting this week at the Combine.
"I think we can be as patient as we want to be," Webster said.
But Johnson is owed $8 million in 2014. The Titans are expected to ask him to restructure his contract and, if refused, the team may cut or trade him.
Meanwhile, Johnson took to Twitter this week and said, "My agent and Titans front office had a talk yesterday and everything is still at a standstill so it's a waiting game while I continue to grind."
Afterward, he elaborated in comments to The Tennessean, saying, "People I know, and people I don't know, they all ask me: Are you going to be back with the Titans? What are they going to do? I get it 15-20 times a day at least. And honestly, I don't know. I don't know what they are going to do."
Johnson's contract calls for an $8 million salary in 2014, and he said he has been told the team is in an "evaluation process."
Said Johnson, "It is kind of weird, to be honest, not knowing what is going to happen. It is kind of like a waiting game. It is just different ... I have never been through a situation like this. Other years there have been questions about whether they would keep me, but this year we really know it is a decision they have to make. So it is kind of weird.
"But I am trying not to stay too focused on it. Still, it is in the back of my head because I don't know what is going to go on."
Whisenhunt also said he is assessing the strength of his roster and pointed to the mobility of fourth-year quarterback Jake Locker.
"Until you get time with them on the field, you evaluate what you think they're good at," he said. "It sounds like an easy process; I hope it turns out that way."
Whisenhunt said Locker, 25, is working his way back to full health and is expected to participate in organized team activities. Locker played just seven games because of injuries and has only 18 career starts since being drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft.
"From what I've seen, Jake exhibits a lot of qualities that you can get excited about," Whisenhunt said. "You don't know which direction it's going to go; we haven't been on the field with them yet. I think the arrow is definitely going up."
Webster said the evaluation of Locker is all about him staying healthy.
"He knows that," Webster said. "Jake is his kind of guy in terms of work ethic. He's going to be around the office all the time watching film. That's the first thing coach Whisenhunt wants."
--Cornerback Alterraun Verner is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 11, and likes playing for the Titans. Asked about the possibility of accepting a hometown discount, Verner said, "I guess you could say (that) exists, and it doesn't exist. I love being here, I love my teammates and I love Tennessee. When it comes to the money, it is not like I need to be paid super high. But I am not going to be a fool and take anything that is super small. From a business standpoint, you don't know how long you are going to play in this league, so you have to take advantage when you can."
--Titans tight end Delanie Walker recently said a lack of effort by a group of players ended up being a "cancer" on the team during the 2013 season and led to the firing of head coach Mike Munchak.
Walker told 104.5 The Zone, "When we started losing more games, you got to see it more and more. It was falling apart and the players that were the cancer were dragging other players into that box with them and the box was getting bigger and bigger."
After taking over as head coach, Ken Whisenhunt talked about Walker's comments and said that Walker should have dealt with it in the locker room rather than speaking publicly.
Cornerback Jason McCourty and wide receiver Nate Washington agree.
Washington told espn.com, "Every single man on that totem pole played hard. Now whether his habits specifically could be the talent to get us over the bar for that day, that's a totally different story. That's not a cancer, that's him still giving his effort. Like J-Mac said, I just wish, as one of those guys that was in that locker room and heard that statement, I wish that initiative would have been taken up by Delanie during the season. We should have had a players meeting. This initiative should have came from him back during the season when these things were going on, if he thought that that was an issue."
--New coach Ken Whisenhunt likes what he sees from the Titans' offensive line.
"I thought, both sides of the ball, the line did a good job for the most part last year," he said. "I think we're young on the interior three, the center (Brian Schwenke) and the two guards (Andy Levitre and Chance Warmack) and that's a good thing, because if you're just looking at a team a big piece of it is your offensive and defensive line. We've got some youth there. We've got some players that have played well. I'm excited about seeing how they go from there. I think you're always looking at those areas to try to find players that can help the football team. I think we have some young players, some good pieces of the puzzle on both sides of the ball there.
--Whisenhunt has been impressed with the team's president and CEO Tommy Smith.
Whisenhunt said, "Tommy's been great. His knowledge of the game has been very impressive. Not (previously) knowing much about Tommy Smith, I didn't realize how involved he'd been in football for so long and just his depth of knowledge about players has been very impressive but one of the things I'm really excited about is his direction that he wants to go with the team. He's committed to wanting to put a good football team out there, and everything he's shown to this point to me has been outstanding.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Titans re-signed safety Bernard Pollard, who led the team in tackles last season, to a two-year contract on Tuesday (March 4).
Pollard, who agreed to the deal Monday evening and signed the contract Tuesday morning, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the start of free agency on March 11.
"We know where we're going to be for the next couple of years," Pollard said. "The city of Nashville and state of Tennessee have welcomed myself and my family. We feel at home here."
After winning a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, the eight-year pro signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Titans last offseason.
In Pollard's first season with the Titans, he led the team with a career-high 142 tackles, added three interceptions and one-half sack in 16 starts at strong safety.
Last year, Tennessee ranked 11th in the NFL in pass defense and 14th overall.
"We were pleased with the job Bernard did for us in his first season with us last year," said Titans general manager Ruston Webster. "Getting this deal done helps our overall plan for this offseason. We still have work ahead of us trying to retain some of our other players, but we are glad to be able to get this one done."
--The Titans re-signed running back Jackie Battle to a one-year contract, keeping him from becoming an unrestricted free agent on March 11.
Mainly a special teams player for the Titans, Battle had 36 rushing attempts for 142 yards during the 2013 season.
Battle is just glad to know he has a team entering the offseason.
"The past three years I didn't know where I was going to be or if I was going to be somewhere until right before training camp," Battle told The Tennessean. "So it's great to know early, and I'm glad the Titans thought enough of me to want to bring me back. I've always been a core special teams guy in my career, and I've been able to step in when a team needed me to play running back. I just want to continue to do what I can to help a team win."
Scheduled to be unrestricted in March
--WR Kenny Britt
--DT Antonio Johnson
--WR/KR Marc Mariani
--C Kevin Matthews
--T Mike Otto
--S Bernard Pollard
--QB Rusty Smith
--C/G Chris Spencer
--C/G Robert Turner
--CB Alterraun Verner
--RB/KR Leon Washington
--WR Damian Williams
DEFENSIVE END: The Titans have needed an edge pass rusher since Kyle Vanden Bosch departed and probably will be looking again in the draft or free agency to find one.
RIGHT TACKLE: David Stewart has been a solid pro for nine years, but injuries may have brought him to the end of the line. A replacement is needed to get younger there.
QUARTERBACK: The uncertainty of Jake Locker's health leaves the Titans wondering if he is the guy for the future.
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