Megatron healthy, ready to flourish in new offense

Posted May 28, 2014

Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi recognizes he has a "very valuable weapon" in wide receiver Calvin Johnson

Joe Lombardi thought he had a pretty good idea of how gifted Calvin Johnson was from the outside looking in.

Calvin JohnsonWR Calvin Johnson (Photo: Detroit Lions)

But when the new Lions offensive coordinator got to Detroit and saw Megatron in the flesh, his eyes lit up and possibilities started swirling in his mind.

“It’s really – you’ve got to be careful not to be a fan when you’re watching him because it’s really unbelievable when you see him in person,” Lombardi said after Wednesday’s open OTA practice. “Just how big, strong and fast he is, it’s even more so than you thought. It’s pretty impressive.”

It’s now up to Lombardi to find ways to get Johnson the football in his offense. That should come easier with the additions of receiver Golden Tate and tight end Eric Ebron, but defenses will no doubt still have No. 81 as their main focus to contain when playing the Lions.

The new offense, which has a lot of similarities to the one Lombardi ran in New Orleans along with some elements from Baltimore and Indianapolis thrown in, is a lot different than the one ran by Scott Linehan (now in Dallas) the last five years, according to Johnson.

One thing remains the same, however. The Lions still plan to move Johnson all over the field to try and force matchup advantages.

“They’re using me in different positions within the offense,” Johnson said. “I love it because we can run one play out of so many looks and that goes for every play we have. It’s so much variety.”

Variety is good, especially when Johnson commands so much attention from defenses.

“I think he dictates a lot of coverages, meaning there are certain things that defenses are going to be a little more hesitant to do with a guy like Calvin out there,” Lombardi said. “It allows you, the quarterback, to pre-snap some things, and if they are leaving him singled up, it allows you to get the plays that take advantage of that. He’s, obviously, a very valuable weapon.”

The Saints had talented pass catchers like Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Kenny Stills and Robert Meachem the last few years while Lombardi was coaching the quarterbacks, but none of those players command the same kind of attention on the outside part of the field that Johnson does.

He’s a unique weapon, and just as Johnson is learning Lombardi’s scheme, Lombardi is learning the most effective ways of utilizing the best receiver in the game.

Johnson says he’s healthy after undergoing knee and finger surgeries this offseason that limited his practice schedule last year and forced him to miss two games.

“I feel that you have to go out there and practice to be able to play at your best,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in that. I had experience in the offense, so I was able to go out there and still play, but I’m a firm believer in being out there during the week. It will definitely improve the performance on Sunday.”

Johnson still managed 84 catches, 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns with limited practice time in 14 games last year, but a new offense and a new season bring new opportunities for Megatron.