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Strickly Panthers: Titans' Johnson poses threat

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CHARLOTTE - With 4,598 rushing yards entering this season, Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson had recorded the fourth-most rushing yards in his first three seasons in NFL history.

His breakneck pace has slowed significantly this year, but the Panthers know his breakneck speed is still there.

"Any game, he could break out," said defensive end Charles Johnson, whose Panthers will host the Titans on Sunday. "He's got 4.2 speed, he can stop on a dime, and he's got some juke moves.

"You've always got to account for him."

Johnson, coming off a 1,300-yard season and just two years removed from the sixth 2,000-yard season in NFL history, has just 366 rushing yards midway through 2011.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera suggested a simple explanation for Johnson's slow start.

"Probably the holdout," he said.

Johnson held out for a new contract in the preseason and didn't join the team until 10 days before the regular season opener. Johnson professed that he kept in tip-top shape throughout his time away, but Rivera - with all due respect - doesn't think that's possible for a football player.

"It's impossible to simulate getting in shape for football season," Rivera said. "It's not like in basketball where you can go out and train all you want in the basketball court – the same with golf and baseball. Football is different. There's nothing like the pulling, the pushing, the tugging, the grabbing, the holding, the running, the catching."

Rivera, however, said he saw signs of Johnson rounding back into shape in the first half last Sunday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, when Johnson gained 55 yards before the NFL's second-ranked rushing defense stymied him in the second half.

Carolina ranks 27th in the NFL against the run but did hold Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson – the league's leading rusher entering the Panthers game – to 83 rushing yards in their meeting Oct. 30.

"We're closer to where we want to be, but we're not quite there," Rivera said. "It's about us being disciplined, doing our jobs and being held accountable for when something wrong happens."

!INJURY BUG CONTAGIOUS? A reporter asked linebacker James Anderson on Wednesday about the Panthers' latest in a rash of injuries at the position, to which Anderson joked that such questions could serve as a jinx.

"You keep saying it, that's why it keeps happening," Anderson said.

Thursday, Anderson had to leave practice early after rolling his ankle.

Rivera said he thought Anderson would be fine for Sunday's game. The Panthers have to hope so.

With Thomas Williams joining Jon Beason and Thomas Davis on injured reserve Tuesday, the Panthers are down to six linebackers on the active roster. Jason Phillips hasn't practiced since injuring his calf against Minnesota, and Jordan Senn has played almost exclusively on special teams this season.

Also, running back Mike Goodson pulled his hamstring in practice. He has been inactive the last four games.

"It's too bad because the young man had looked great at practice the last few weeks," Rivera said. "We'll have to see the extent of it. It might be a week or could be a few weeks."

KEISER'S ROLE: Tuesday, undrafted rookie defensive end Thomas Keiser was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.

Thursday, Rivera said Keiser would be among the Panthers' 46 active players for the Titans game.

"He definitely deserves it," said rookie defensive tackle Sione Fua, who was teammates with Keiser at Stanford. "When he was on the practice squad, he came out, practiced hard and came out with the same intensity. He worked his way into that spot, and I know he's going to take advantage of the opportunity and come out Sunday and show what he has."

TOUGH TICKET: General public tickets have sold out for the 2011 Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship game being played at Bank of America Stadium on Dec. 3.

The game also sold out in its first appearance in Charlotte last season after the first five championship games enjoyed just one sellout.

Each participating school will be allotted 10,000 tickets apiece.

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