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For Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, making jaws drop among his teammates, coaches and fans is a regular occurrence. When asked about juking—and potentially embarrassing—teammate Cortland Finnegan during practice, he casually responded, “I just dismissed him.” Yet even Johnson, with all of his talent, realizes that one big hit or misstep could end his career. This is a threat that NFL running backs face every day.
Running backs like Johnson and Kansas City’s Thomas Jones touch the ball hundreds of times per season. Most of these plays end in collisions with linemen who weigh upwards of 300 lbs. The punishment is brutal and their bodies ache, yet they never shy away from another opportunity to carry the ball—a testament to their devotion to helping their teams win. This fierce determination is the primary reason why running backs are becoming an endangered species.
As NFL offenses become more pass-oriented, the importance of the star back decreases. Teams are reluctant to pay big money for the Johnsons and Joneses of the world, because the risks of the position are so great. Who would want to sign a huge contract with a player who might only play 2.6 years, the average for NFL running backs?
To beat the averages, players do everything they can to maintain their durability. Johnson is a speed demon, relying on his explosive legs to make absurdly sharp cuts and accelerate blindingly fast toward the end zone. His speed and quickness helps him elude defenders and excessive contact, so his training acts almost as injury prevention and is heavily focused on keeping his legs strong. On the other hand, Jones is a physical back, overpowering defensive lines with his size and strength. He makes sure to strengthen his arms and shoulders, which absorb the brunt of the contact he frequently experiences.
Take a cue from these two top running backs, and hit the weight room hard to stay healthy and rack up wins. Check out STACK’s exclusive video workout and interview content with Chris Johnson, and keep a lookout on STACK.com for a shoulder- and arm-busting workout from Thomas Jones.
Source: Tim Layden, Sports Illustrated
Photo: Jamie Squire, Getty Images