Step Up Your Game: Chris Johnson

The first in a series of blogs highlighting key players that need to step up their game in 2010, starting with training camp.

The Island and Swiss Cheese

With Nnamdi Asomugha locking down one side of the field, there is tremendous pressure placed upon the cornerback on the opposite side.

Chris Johnson has been tasked with holding down that side for the last season and a half. Once DeAngelo Hall was discarded half-way into the 2008 season, Johnson stepped in and played well enough to be the undisputed starter in 2009.

In 2009, Johnson was thrown at 100 times. Only nine players were thrown at more. Johnson was the most thrown at cornerback when weighted based on the percentage of snaps he was on the field.

The Raiders spent two draft picks on the position and tendered Stanford Routt at the highest level as a clear indication that the team wasn’t happy with the group of cornerbacks.

While Chris Johnson may still be the odds on favorite to win the job again in 2010, his job is hardly secure. Thus far, Johnson has survived by making big plays. If that ability to make plays were to evaporate, Johnson would be a poor cover cornerback and would merit replacing in short order.

Johnson allowed 64 percent of the passes thrown at him to be completed. The average is about 61 percent.

It wouldn’t be hard to conclude that Johnson takes risks. The question is if the risks are worth the reward.

Why him?

There are plenty of options to choose from when asking the question: What players need to step up their game in 2010?

Out of those that come to mind, there is a more specific group of players that have the potential to impact the team in a greater way.

Johnson fits into this category nicely. If he can become more effective against the pass without losing his ability to make plays, opponents would be forced to look to Asomugha’s side more often or run the ball.

If Johnson is not able to replicate his success making plays or his coverage skills do not improve, Johnson might have to be replaced altogether.

There aren’t many candidates to compete for Johnson’s starting spot. Walter McFadden will need much more seasoning and Jeremy Ware has even further to go. Stanford Routt is certainly another ‘Step Up Your Game’ candidate with some ability.

If MIchael Huff is serious about playing cornerback and the Raiders decide to move ahead with it, there could be potential for a true competition.Time will tell if Michael Huff is able to make that transition or if the Raiders squelch the idea.

Without Hufff in the fold, there is little doubt Johnson will start opposite Asomugha in the season opener against the Titans.The question will be if he was able to step up his game in training camp without true competition?

The Raiders season hinges on improvement in many areas, but few positions are more important to team success than the cornerback position. It is a passing league and Johnson and Asomugha will be tasked with shutting down the passer.

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