Running back and return specialist Chris Johnson had hoped to enter the NFL draft after his junior season at East Carolina.
It was LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - There are two reasons Darren McFadden didn't have the fastest 40-yard dash among running backs at last month's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis:
East Carolina's Chris Johnson and one of his friends.
Johnson was content with the 4.29-second time posted on his first attempt and didn't plan to run again. But he then received a text message from University of South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins, who was watching the workouts on TV.
Jenkins relayed that McFadden — the star Arkansas rusher — had blazed an unofficial time of 4.27 seconds.
"When I found that out," Johnson said, "I started warming up to run another 40."
And did he.
Johnson ran faster than all but one of the roughly 3,000 combine participants since electronic timing was adopted in 1999. He was clocked at 4.24 seconds, which easily bested McFadden's official time of 4.33.
"I thought I was fast, but I didn't know I was that fast," Johnson said after a recent post-combine workout at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. "I would have been happy with anything in the 4.2s. It surprised me."
Yet, Johnson's time didn't receive as much media buzz as the player he bested — and understandably so.
McFadden enjoyed a more storied college career and entered the combine as the draft's top running back prospect. Johnson averaged an NCAA-best 227.7 all-purpose yards in 2007 but didn't face the same level of competition in Conference USA.
Johnson said he isn't envious of all the attention McFadden has received. Instead, it has served as motivation.
"I just knew I had to be the fastest one there to get any publicity," said Johnson, who is 3 inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter than the 6-foot-2, 210-pound McFadden. "It's a political thing. McFadden already is rated so high that for him to run a 4.33 was good on his part and helped his stock rise.
"I'm in another situation. I'm a late first-round/early second-round guy. My time, I hope, rose me up."
It definitely didn't hurt.
"That's my first time ever running an electronic 40," Johnson said. "I've run a stop-watch 40 where I've had a 4.22 and 4.18. The electronic time is really accurate, so I was pretty happy with that."
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A high school track star who proudly proclaims himself "the fastest dude in Orlando," Johnson didn't have to travel far for pre-combine training. He spent time at Disney with renowned speed coach Tom Shaw, who describes Johnson as a "workaholic."
"He's been working on stride length and stride frequency, which are the only two ways to increase speed," Shaw said. "But Chris is not just a track kid who happens to play football. He's a football player who happens to be fast."
Opposing defenders who took bad angles on Johnson found that out the hard way.
Johnson — who chose to play at East Carolina because the school stood by him when he initially struggled qualifying for college admission — rushed for 2,982 yards in 47 career games. He also set a Pirates record for running backs with 125 career receptions, which could make him an attractive option coming out of the backfield in the NFL.
Johnson was especially dominant late in his senior season. He set a Hawaii Bowl-record with 408 all-purpose yards (223 rushing, 32 passing and 153 on kickoffs) in an East Carolina upset of Boise State.
Johnson believes his Pirates resume separates him from other speedy combine prospects who never achieved NFL success. One of them is Eastern Kentucky wide receiver Rondel Melendez. He was the only other player whose 40-yard dash was electronically timed at 4.24 seconds at the 1999 combine.
"If you go back and look at my film, football for me was first," Johnson said.
Johnson, though, knows NFL teams are also taking a hard look at his medical records. He underwent neck surgery in the 2007 off-season for what he describes as "a small crack in one of my bones."
"It wasn't a serious injury," Johnson said. "But any time you're dealing with a neck, people are going to put a lot of emphasis on it. (The doctors) put a screw in. Since then, I've had no problems. There's nothing to worry about with any failed physicals or things like that."
Johnson isn't fretting about having to prepare for another 40-yard dash before April's draft. He didn't participate at East Carolina's Pro Day workouts last week, choosing to stand on his combine time.
"That's it," said Johnson, flashing a smile that reveals a golden grill of upper teeth. "I'm done running."
not to be. Injuries limited him to five starts and 346 yards. He all but groaned when he learned that he was projected to go no higher than the fifth round.
He returned to school and one year has made all the difference in how he is perceived. He carried 236 times for 1,468 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. Thirty-seven receptions added another 528 yards and six scores. Then there were 36 kick returns for yet another 1,009 yards and a score.
Put it this way: the 5-11, 195-pounder with blazing speed isn't looking at the fifth round. He should be a perfect fit for any two-back system as he prepares for Saturday's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
"So many teams are going with a power runner and a smaller, quicker back," says East Carolina coach Skip Holtz. "I think Chris Johnson has a chance to be excellent in that league."
Johnson made sure he gained the NFL's attention when he erupted for 223 rushing yards and an NCAA bowl-record 408 all-purpose yards in leading East Carolina to a 41-38 victory against Boise State in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
"I have opened eyes all season," says the Orlando native. "When you do that (in the Hawaii Bowl), it opens a lot more eyes."
His timing is perfect.
"The game has slowed down for Chris from where he was a couple of years ago," Holtz says. "He was pressing to make things happen and he was frustrated."
A return to health and an upgraded offensive line that blocked well enough to vault him into the secondary made all the difference.
"If he gets the ball to the second level, he can take it to the house because he is so fast," Holtz says. "He really doesn't have an opportunity to do that when he's making moves just to get to the line."
Johnson is looking forward to showing teams what he can do in the next couple of months, starting with the Senior Bowl. "You can't be a household name if people don't really see you," he says. "They are seeing me now, here and at the combine."
It will be evident at the scouting combine at Indianapolis in February that Johnson needs to add weight and muscle. He also intends to show that he possesses exceptional speed in the 40-yard dash.
"My goal is a 4.25," he says of his lofty objective. "I feel I have that kind of speed."
Pirates have Johnson’s back after fumble
By Brian McInnis
After his second fumble of the season appeared to have cost his team dearly, Chris Johnson didn't give up hope.
Instead, the East Carolina running back and Hawaii Bowl most valuable player trusted in his teammates. Following Boise State safety Marty Tadman's 47-yard return of Johnson's fumble for a game-tying touchdown with 1 minute, 25 seconds left, ECU quarterback Rob Kass came off the bench to guide the Pirates to within field-goal range, Ben Hartman nailed the 34-yard game-winner as time expired, and ECU streamed off the Aloha Stadium field as 41-38 winners.
"I was running hard to try to get the first down, get upfield, and I just didn't put two hands on the ball," said Johnson, a senior, who rushed 28 times for 223 yards. "I was like, 'I let my team down,' but when I got back to the sideline they told me they had my back, they love me and all this. I knew they always got my back just like how I got their back."
If not for the clutch play of Kass and Hartman, his late gaffe might have overshadowed an otherwise superb performance: Johnson -- the Conference USA special teams player of the year and national leader in all-purpose yardage per game -- punished the Broncos for an NCAA bowl record 408 all-purpose yards.
He scored on rushing and passing touchdowns to help build a 24-7 lead in the first half.
ECU coach Skip Holtz considers himself "the president of the fan club" for the 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior, who sports a grin full of gold teeth. For most of the game, Johnson was golden in front of a national TV audience, bouncing off Bronco tacklers, staying on his feet for long gains and displaying ludicrous speed in the open field to average 8 yards per carry.
Holtz said that Johnson will play in the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
"What the rest of the country saw today is what we've been watching for three years," Holtz said. "He is one of the hardest workers we have on this team. He'll carry the ball 30 times and he'll come to practice the next day and he won't miss a beat. We've asked a lot of him over the last couple weeks, and he is a true warrior."
Boise State coach Chris Petersen could only shake his head at Johnson's 68-yard breakaway score in the first quarter.
"We made him look pretty good tonight," Petersen said. "Defensively, that's on us. He's just so strong."
The Broncos did a better job of containing him in the second half by loading the box with more defenders and forcing starting quarterback Patrick Pinkney to make plays -- 181 of Johnson's rushing yards came before halftime.
He feels he stated a pretty good case to NFL scouts regardless. Sherman Williams of Alabama previously held the all-purpose yardage bowl record with 359 yards in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.
"Sure felt good to end my career like this," Johnson said. "I just wanted to come out here and show the whole country I'm the best back in the country."
But without the help of his teammates, an overtime loss to the Broncos would have been a tough thing to swallow during the 4,862-mile journey back to Greenville, N.C.
Said Kass with a grin: "I promise you he'll sleep well all the way home."
I think we should stop looking at the fastest times... Hill, Wade, Haggans, Looker all fast guys that have been nothing more then fast guys... Speed isn't everything.
Okay, I've let this go for a while, but I have to say... Randy, the horse is dead. Let it rest.
Seriously, unless you are Chris Johnson, his agent, his best friend, or his father, your constant posting about him... indeed, your undying man-love for him, is just getting annoying.
Yes, he's fast. So what?
The Rams need a lot of things, but another RB is not one of them. At least not at the point in the draft that Johnson will go (probably Rounds 2-3).
Let's not forget... the last time the Rams took a RB with a high pick despite already having a quality starter and largely due to infatuation with time speed we ended up with Trung Canidate.
So, please, enough already.