Free-agent running back Chris Johnson understands he may need to wait a while before another NFL opportunity arises. Yet after surviving a drive-by shooting that killed a close friend, the veteran is confident the work he's putting in will help revitalize his career.
Back in March, Johnson was struck in the shoulder by gunfire that killed the driver of the vehicle he was riding in, Dreekius Oricko Johnson. He talked about the eye-opening moment and how it really changed his outlook on life during an appearance on CBS Sports Radio with Jason La Canfora this week.
"It was a life-changing experience," Johnson said. "It showed you how to enjoy life and how to enjoy every day waking up. Because just as easily as it was one of my best friends that was sitting right next to me – the one that got killed – it easily could have been me. So these days, I'm just enjoying life and making sure I enjoy each day."
The 29-year-old back was forced to go through six weeks of bed rest as part of his recovery. He was already on the small side for a player at the position, and he said by the time the process was completed he weighed only 180 pounds.
Johnson told La Canfora that he's back working out now and is hovering right around 200 pounds, which is his target weight. Now he's just waiting for the phone to ring with hope he can catch on with a team in the near future.
He knows that might not come until training camp gets underway or injury problems arise, though.
"Right now is kind of a dead period," Johnson said. "But things should pick back up when (camps start). I've just been working hard, getting back healthy, getting in shape. Now it's just waiting and working out and seeing what my next situation is going to be."
Johnson emerged as one of the league's most dynamic offensive weapons during his time with the Tennessee Titans. In 2009, he became virtually impossible to stop en route to more than 2,000 yards rushing and 16 total touchdowns.
All of the hits he's taken have sapped some of his playmaking ability. He averaged just 4.3 yards per carry last season with the New York Jets—a reasonable number but well off his peak performance—leaving teams to wonder how much he had left in the tank, even before the scary incident.
The days of serving as a workhorse back are likely a thing of the past. But all it takes is one team in need of depth at running back to give him a chance. He can be an effective dual-threat option out of the backfield in limited doses as long as he's truly back to full strength.
Despite the adversity he's been through, Johnson is clearly intent on making his way back into the league and is working to accomplish that goal.