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Titans' Johnson nearing 2,000 yards

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Johnson, the NFL's leading rusher, thinks Tennessee fullback Ahmard Hall got robbed in the Pro Bowl voting.

Johnson is 128 yards away from becoming only the sixth NFL player to rush for 2,000 yards in a single season. Yet Johnson is the only one of the Titans voted to a starting spot. Hall, whose primary job is clearing out holes for Johnson to run for all those yards, is the AFC's first alternate at fullback. Left tackle Michael Roos and center Kevin Mawae also are first alternates.

Only one fullback ever goes to the Pro Bowl.

"I feel like he was supposed to go last year and for him not to go this year is messed up," Johnson said Wednesday.

Yes, he knows he's prejudiced. Just like any receiver catching passes from Brett Favre, Johnson thinks he has the best fullback in the NFL in Hall, a former U.S. Marine.

"He's a big reason for my success," Johnson said.

Welcome to the challenge of playing fullback in the NFL.

Baltimore's Le'Ron McClain had the most yards rushing of any fullback with 45 carries for 175 yards, so he was tabbed as the AFC's Pro Bowl starter for a second straight season. It's a big drop from last season, but McClain is blocking for Ray Rice this season. Rice ranks fifth in the AFC with 1,269 yards rushing.

A good season if not for what the Titans and Johnson are doing.

Here in Tennessee, the Titans ask their fullback to be more of an extension of the offensive line. The 5-foot-10, 242-pound Hall looks as if he's been chiseled from stone, and he has gotten one carry for 5 yards this season. He has caught 11 passes for 77 yards.

Finding fullbacks isn't easy these days with more colleges using spread offenses. Titans assistant coach Earnest Byner sees a good fullback as crucial to an NFL offense.

"You get in certain situations, you need a good fullback. The components of what it takes -- toughness, have got to be unselfish, very unselfish. And from our fullback, we get a lot of leadership. He's a very large determinant on what we do and the temperament that we have on offense," Byner said.

Some of the NFL's top fullbacks also include McClain, Atlanta's Ovie Mughelli and Jacob Hester of San Diego.

Jets linebacker Bart Scott said earlier this year that Hall is on the short list of fullbacks in the NFL that he respects because of his athleticism.

"He's not a big slug," Scott said.

"A lot of times people think you've got to be 250, 260 to be an effective fullback. People don't realize that speed is power... He has a unique ability to use his speed and athleticism to find a linebacker through the hole and still maintain his power."

Johnson's favorite memory of Hall involves the fullback knocking Scott's helmet off with a block in a 13-10 win at Baltimore in October 2008.

Hall switched to fullback in college at Texas trying to find his way onto the field. He had walked on at Texas after four years with the Marines in a stint that included a 1999 tour in Kosovo and a 2002 stint in Afghanistan. He firmly believes being a Marine helps him as a fullback.

"Selfless, smash-mouth, gritty, being in the trenches. What I used to do, it definitely helps me with what I do now," Hall said.

That unselfishness might change just a bit in the future. Hall calls the new Pro Bowlers good players but is disappointed at being passed over, along with the entire offensive line. Roos and Mawae might get a call if someone is hurt, or busy, ahead of them. Hall knows that won't happen with McClain.

No complaining. He'll just try for a few more carries and catches in 2010.

"I've got to take it upon myself because I can see the blocking's not being as highlighted as much as it should be," Hall said.