"When he was a sophomore, he was young at what he did. He was really feeling out the system because we had new coaches. When his junior year came, he got way aggressive. He hit the weight room hard and he just stayed hungry," Allison said. "When (the Vikings) had an off-week last year, I went to visit him and I knew he was going to be special. I knew he was going to go early in the draft. He killed Central Florida and he was like a man against kids out there."
The Titans must have thought so, too. They made him the 24th overall selection in April's draft and Johnson is rewarding that confidence. Through three weeks, Johnson is already the league's seventh-leading rusher with 276 yards on 51 carries (an impressive 5.5-yard average).
Allison and Johnson became friends at East Carolina, and the running back introduced the wide receiver to his now-ex-girlfriend, as the two women were best friends (Johnson is still dating the same woman). Allison returned the favor by setting up a meeting in Miami this offseason between Johnson and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
"When we were in college, he used to imitate Adrian and he used to imitate LenDale White. He ended up with LenDale and I'm here with Adrian, so he was a fan of him and they got to meet," Allison said. "That was a big thing for him. I don't think Adrian knew it. … Still to this day he asks, ‘What does A.D. do different?' because he wants to be the best at what he does."
Allison said there are similarities and differences between Peterson and Johnson. The speed is similar, but the power is an advantage for Peterson.
"(Johnson) still hits the hole hard as if he's 220," Allison said of the 5-11, 200-pound speedster. "He's so explosive. The only thing I feel like Adrian has on him is that ability to be able to take contact on every play and give contact. C.J., that's not one of his strengths. I don't feel like he likes to dish out the contact as much because he don't weigh as much."
"If one guy misses, it's over, like he showed in college. That's just what kind of player he is."
So far this season, Johnson has the Titans' only run over 20 yards – a 51-yarder at Cincinnati two weeks ago. But, despite going against the NFL's top rush defense from the past two years, Allison said Johnson is confident in his abilities, and that includes this Sunday.
"He feels like he's going to exploit us, do this and do that to us, but I'd just be telling him that this is a different level than in college," said Allison, who talks to Johnson at least weekly, including this week. "I've seen our defense shut down the best backs – LaDainian (Tomlinson), Willie Parker. I just had to break the reality to him. No knock on other teams, but our team is different. Our personality is totally different. That's one thing we take pride in is stopping the run. I don't feel like that's going to be a factor at all."
For the Titans, QB Vince Young (knee/hamstring) is out. S Nick Harper (ankle), WR Justin McCareins (groin) and RB LenDale White (shoulder) are probable.