KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs defensive players know what it’s like to face a player with the breakaway speed that Tennessee’s Chris Johnson possesses.
After all, they see it almost every day in practice when they line up against Jamaal Charles.
Trying to catch Charles day after day should prepare them for the likes of Johnson, one of the NFL’s fastest players.
“Of course it helps,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “I mean, not many running backs out there can stay with Jamaal and he’s a guy who can maybe even beat Jamaal. So yeah, it prepares us.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid agreed.
“Both of them are really fast,” Reid said of Charles and Johnson. “I mean really fast.
“Our defense doesn’t necessarily prepare for Jamaal (each week) but they do in camp, so they know what it’s like. And they see (Charles) in practice every day. It’s a challenge for them.”
Johnson, too, presents a scary challenge, though he is off to a rather pedestrian start by his standards.
Johnson, who rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2009, has just 277 yards through four games this season. And he has a rather pedestrian 3.3 yards-per-carry average. And the running back who has had a 91-yard scoring run and a 94-yard scoring run in his career has a long of just 23 yards this season.
The Chiefs aren’t exactly fooled.
“He can really present some problems for you in the running game,” Johnson said. “If you’re not careful and you’re not playing team defense, he’ll burn you. We have to be ready.”
What will be the Chiefs’ plan?
“You got to keep those holes really small because if he hits one of them, he can go and he can go really fast,” Reid said.
Added Johnson, “He’s just a super-fast guy. You really have to play team defense against him. One guy misses his gap or gets out of his gap just a little, he can slip through that. He has the speed of Jamaal. He can take it 80 at any time.
“We’ll be ready.”
Even rookie defensive back Marcus Cooper, who filled in for the injured Brandon Flowers and may have to do so again Sunday against the Titans, is wary of Johnson.
“He has that great speed,” Cooper said. “We’ve all got to be ready. You can’t just lock on your guy and look away from the play because the next thing you know, he’s by everyone.
“It will definitely take all of us to be aware.”
The Titans also have another running threat in quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will take over for the injured Jake Locker.
Chiefs fans are all too familiar with Fitzpatrick, who while with Buffalo beat the Chiefs 35-17 last year and 41-7 at Arrowhead the year before.
Fitzpatrick isn’t exactly Michael Vick when it comes to running quarterbacks, but he can elude rushers and get to the sticks, much like Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith can.
“You have a dual threat in him,” Johnson said. “He can beat with his arm and his legs. Don’t know whether we’ll have some guy responsible for him like we would with Vick, but you have to be aware of him.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us, to stop him and Johnson.”
The type of challenge the Chiefs see in practice every day.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at email@example.com