Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs prepare for Titans' star back

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Tennessee running back Chris Johnson was disappointed to learn the bongo drums he used as a prop after scoring a touchdown against the Chiefs two years ago have since been removed from Arrowhead Stadium

"But I can't be too disappointed," said Johnson, who was fined by the league for his impromptu celebration that day. "That's $15,000 more I get to keep in my pocket.

"I could say it was worth it. Any time you're fined $15,000, it's always a hard thing. At the end of the day, I'd have to say if I had the chance to do it again or if I could take that back, I wouldn't take it back. I would still do it."

Johnson will find a more formidable rush defense awaiting him Sunday when the Titans are at Arrowhead to play against the Chiefs. He will also find a Chiefs counterpart in Jamaal Charles who is threatening to take away Johnson's unofficial title as the NFL's most spectacular running back.

Charles is third in the NFL with 1,303 rushing yards or 36 more than Johnson, who is fourth. But Charles has 79 fewer carries than Johnson and a stunning 6.4-yard per carry average.

Both players are also heavily used by their respective teams as pass receivers. They're so close in their size (under 200 pounds) and abilities that the only thing separating them Sunday is the color of their uniform.

"There are some similarities between the two," Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. "They both came out the same year. We were out in Arizona and we were real interested in trying to find a back.

"They're both obviously really fast. They're built similarly. They're explosive and quick. They've both got good hands. They both can do a lot of things for you."

Charles is fast, but not as fast as Johnson, who ran a 4.24 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL's scouting combine, an unofficial record.

"Man, that will be a good race," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "Jamaal is a Texas guy, I want to say Jamaal, but I've got to give it to Chris Johnson, just a little bit. They're both great backs. We're going against Chris this week. It's going to be a hard task to stop him, but hopefully, Jamaal has a better game."

Johnson saw the highlight of Charles getting caught from behind by St. Louis defensive back Ron Bartell on his 80-yard run last week. Johnson appeared to take delight in that event, chuckling as he was asked about it and saying Bartell never would have caught him.

But Charles may have caught Johnson as the league's best big-play runner. Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards last season and talked openly of going over 2,500 this year.

In that light, his season has been disappointing.

"Every defensive coordinator is trying to stop me," Johnson said. "Of course it's going to be hard to do what I did last year.

"I wouldn't say I'm having a bad year at all. If you look at me, I'm still up there (near) the top. I'm putting up numbers (like) guys not getting as focused on like I am."

Johnson had a midseason stretch where he rushed for more than 100 yards in just two of six games. He was the victim of Tennessee's offensive collapse around him.

Johnson is starting to come around just as the Titans offense is improving. With star wide receiver Kenny Britt returning from an injury and veteran Kerry Collins stabilizing play at quarterback, Johnson went over 100 yards in each of the last two games while the Titans scored 59 points.

Collins missed practice Wednesday because of a finger injury on his passing hand, jeopardizing his ability in Sunday's game.

"He's still the same back," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. "Our difficulties stem from the uncertainty at the quarterback position with the injuries and such. Teams are going to do whatever they can to shut down the running game. We were unable to effectively put the ball down the field for a number of weeks.

"We're getting back to that now. His numbers are starting to improve. He's still been effective. We've had a number of games where his carries were down because we got behind. We started a rookie quarterback at Houston and he got six or seven carries.

"It's been a team situation as opposed to an individual situation."

Johnson outplayed Charles in the game two years ago at Arrowhead won by the Titans 34-10. Charles, who played little as a rookie, rushed for 17 yards and caught passes for 26 more.

Johnson shared the featured back spot with LenDale White and ran for 168 yards, including the 66-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that led to his drum-playing celebration.

The 2008 season produced a lot of painful memories for the Chiefs, who finished 2-14 and wound up losing their coach when Herm Edwards was fired.

Few memories were more bitter than the one of Johnson playing the bongos.

"I remember a lot of things," Derrick Johnson said. "That part I tried to forget."