Bobby Johnson believes he can help elevate Brandon Pettigrew to elite status

Posted Feb 8, 2013

With a foundation based in fundamentals, new tight ends coach Bobby Johnson is looking forward to working with Brandon Pettigrew

Brandon PettigrewNew tight ends coach Bobby Johnson spent last season as the tight ends coach in Jacksonville and got to see firsthand what a Pro Bowl-caliber tight end looks like in Marcedes Lewis.

Lewis was a Pro Bowler in 2010, recording 10 touchdowns, and has been amongst the best tight ends in the league the last few seasons.

When Johnson accepted the same position with Detroit and began looking at the cut-ups from Brandon Pettigrew's 2012 season, the first thing he thought of was Lewis.

"He has a lot of similar qualities as Marcedes Lewis," Johnson told of Pettigrew.

"Marcedes, in my opinion, is one of the best tight ends in the league and they have a lot of similarities. I think their skill sets are similar. They are both very big, long tight ends, but they have some mass to them that allows them to have some blocking ability.

"I think Brandon, just looking at him from what I've been watching on film, maybe has a little bit more ability in the intermediate routes. He has a little bit more redirect ability or change-of-direction ability. I just think my experience with Marcedes this past year will help me help him."

Lions fans have been waiting for Pettigrew to take that next step and join the elite class of NFL tight ends. It simply hasn't happened yet.

Pettigrew has been a very good weapon for the Lions since they drafted him with the 20th-overall pick in 2009. He's amassed 243 catches for 2,412 yards and 14 touchdowns in 57 games.

He was among tight end leaders in catches and yards in 2010 and 2011. The 2012 season was supposed to be his breakout year coming off an 83-catch performance in 2011, but it simply didn't materialize.

Instead, Pettigrew had two key fumbles in losses at Tennessee and vs. Houston, recorded eight drops in 102 targets, according to Stats LLC, and missed two games late in the season because of an ankle injury.

He finished with a respectable 59 catches for 567 yards and three touchdowns, but in all, it was probably a season he'd like to forget.

Johnson comes to Detroit to take over coaching the tight ends for Tim Lappano, who's been moved over to coach the receivers. Sometimes when a new coach - with a few new ideas and a different philosophy - is brought into the fold, it can make all the difference for a player like Pettigrew.

Johnson's approach to coaching is simple: fundamentals.

"I believe you have to teach fundamentals," he said. "I don't care what level you're coaching at. The things that you teach Pop Warner kids to play the game, I think you still have to teach those to NFL players.

"You don't have to be as drawn out in your explanation, or as deliberate, but I think you still have to spend time on them because I think those are things you can get away from and they'll end up costing you.

"I also believe when I'm teaching fundamentals to make whatever drill or whatever situation you're setting up to be as game-like and as difficult as possible. My philosophy has always been ... I want to put that player in a controlled drill or situation that is potentially the most difficult situation they can find themselves in.

"That way, when they see that difficult situation again it's a repetition thing; 'I've been in this. I know what's going to happen.'"

Johnson said he also likes the prospect of working with Tony Scheffler, who's been both a tight end and a receiver for the Lions over the years.

"I really like his skillset," he said of Scheffler. "I remember when he was at Western Michigan. I'm a Mid-American Conference guy, I played in the MAC and coached in the MAC for a long time, and I'm excited about his skillset because a guy like that brings a lot of multiplicity to the offense.

"Defensive coaches look and see that guy coming in and they're not quite sure if he's going to be an outside receiver or a slot receiver, have his hand in the dirt or be an in-line tight end. He can create a lot of strain for a defense and I'm excited about it."

More than anything else, Johnson said his job is to take players like Pettigrew and Scheffler and help them take the next step.

"I get enjoyment out of guys progressing and getting better and reaching their goals," he said. "It'll be one of the first conversations I have with each guy. I'll ask them, 'Where do you want to go? I want to find a way to help you get there.'"