Earlier in the season some were calling for the head of Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson. I could only shake my head.
After all, in the first game of the season versus Chicago, the Lions’ million dollar investment, second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford, injured his right shoulder and missed the teams’ next five games.
In steps career backup Shawn Hill and people expect Johnson to light up the league? Another thing I felt was that the Lions were being too smart for themselves, knowing that Johnson was going to be doubled teamed, so they used him as a decoy far too often.
I’ve always believed that if a player is your best player, use him and use him. The entire NFL knew Jim Brown was going to carry the rock, but Cleveland gave it to him anyway. Jerry Rice is the NFL’s all-time receiving king and all knew the ball was coming his way every game all game long.
So it has been refreshing to see the Lions actually throw Johnson’s way consistently. With a nickname like “Megatron” and possessing a rare combination of size (6-feet-5, 236 pounds), speed (4.35 sec 40-yard dash), strength, and leaping ability (45 inch vertical leap), the ball needs to find its way to him as much as possible every game.
When the Lions drafted him with the second overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft out of Georgia Tech, it surely could not have been to use him as a decoy. When he left Georgia Tech he was the school’s all-time receiving yardage and touchdowns leader.
If Stafford really becomes what all hope he will be, I’m sure Johnson will benefit from a consistent relationship with a quality quarterback.
“Matthew and I talk all the time about what we can do together on the field,” Johnson said following his three touchdown effort against Washington. “The more we work together the better we will become. We are getting on the same page and that is what you want from a quarterback and receiver. I think we can have something special here with time.”
Johnson’s teammates already feel that he is special and is ready to break out big.
“I feel he is in the top three in the NFL as a receiver,” said Nate Burleson. “I line up on the other side from him every game and I see how the defenses rotate to his side. It is a fact most teams game plan for him and he is always a focus to what defenses are trying to do. When they slip up and leave him in single coverage we all see what happen!”
Concurred rookie defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh: “From the first time I saw him in practice I knew he was special. He is surly one of the elite receivers in the league. That is why we call him ‘Big Play C.J.’ ”
Lions standout safety Louis Delmas is charged with checking some of the best receivers in the league game after game, so he is a valid resource on Johnson’s capabilities.
“He can run like a 5-foot-8 receiver, but we all know that he is a 6-foot-5 beast,” he said. “This is my second year in the league and I’ve seen enough to say he is the best receiver in the league.”
Johnson’s numbers are not spectacular, but there are a number of reasons for starting with the quarterback position. Still, as a sophomore, he made 34 receptions for 646 yards and 10 touchdowns. His third year in the league he caught 40 passes for 736 yards and eight touchdowns.
In spite of the Lions 0–16 season in 2008 Johnson finished 5th in receiving yards (1,331), 7th in receiving yards per game (83.2), and led the league in receiving touchdowns (12). He finished 2009 with 67 receptions for 984 yards and 5 TDs, while completely missing 2 games.
Generally regarded as a humble and well-mannered man, do not mistake his quiet demeanor for soft. In the final three months of the 2007 season he needed the medication to help him play with a bone bruise in his back.
“I was on meds the rest of the season,” he said. “I was taking Vicodin twice a game just to get through the game. I stayed hurt the whole season, probably because I was trying to come back too soon.”
With the Chicago catch, no catch behind him, he has picked up his game and it will be interesting to see how much he and Stafford can impact the remaining Lions contests.
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.