Notebook: Linehan takes cue from Patriots' playbook, Johnson still feeling effects of Greenway

Posted Nov 8, 2012

The Riley Reiff package has become a nice weapon for Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, and he says he’ll continue to lean on it.

Rookie tackle Riley Reiff played 33 snaps as an extra offensive lineman last week at Jacksonville, the most snaps he’s played in a single game all season.

Coincidentally, the Lions had their best rushing performance of the year with 149 yards and four touchdowns. The Reiff package has become a nice weapon for Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, and he says he’ll continue to lean on it.

"He had to go through training camp obviously to learn his position and other positions on the O-line, but once you get into the season, (you find) ways to get your best players on the field and he’s certainly one of them," Linehan said.

Linehan took a cue from the Patriots' playbook from last season and how they used first-round pick Nate Solder. Solder, a tackle, was used as an extra blocker and eligible receiver when Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer were healthy and manning the two tackle spots. Solder has since become a starter in New England.

"(I) studied that in the offseason and felt like that was probably a good way to introduce a young talented player, not slowly, but giving him just little pieces to our offense," Linehan said.

Reiff has taken the role and run with it - literally - and who knows, maybe they’ll actually throw it to him one of these days, too.

"He hasn’t been begging for the ball so I’m not sure if that’s a good sign," Linehan joked. "But he says he was an ex-tight end at some point in his career so I think he’s probably caught a few balls. He’s a good athlete though. He’s a very good athlete, very humble individual.

"He’s going to be and is a heck of a player for us."

Calvin Johnson has been beat up all season long.

He dealt with foot, ankle, finger and knee problems, as well as having to deal with nerve issues resulting from a helmet-to-helmet hit with Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway that resulted in a penalty and a $21,000 fine for Greenway.

"I actually had some nerve damage so that was messing up my grip a little bit," Johnson said Thursday. "Not to blame it on that, but I think that a concussion maybe could have had something to do with some of that damage I had going on. Taking those hits man … they were really violent."

Johnson was asked if he still had some lingering affects from the hit and he said, "It's definitely coming back. I'm feeling a lot better. Middle of the season."

Johnson still has 48 receptions for 767 yards and one touchdown this season despite all the injuries.

The Lions have never diagnosed Johnson with a concussion. He came back and played a short time after suffering that hit from Greenway after going through concussion protocol on the sideline. The numbness and tingling Johnson described Thursday is more commonly associated with a stinger.

Regardless, the biggest issue now is the injury to his left knee that kept him out of practice for a second straight day Thursday.

"Definitely feeling better than it was at this point last week, so that's positive," Johnson said of the knee. "It really won't be better playing on it. It's just maintaining. By not being out here running around on it, that kind of helps maintain it. At the same time I'm able to strengthen it and (I'm) getting my rehab."

The true test will be a 12-day stretch coming up when the Lions play three games (at Minnesota and home vs. Green Bay and Houston).

"It's a tough stretch for anybody whether you're hurting or not," Johnson said. "It's going to be a grind for everybody."

But especially Johnson.

Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier was asked in a conference call with local media this week about the recent struggles of second-year quarterback Christian Ponder.

Frazier said Ponder looked "out of rhythm" and has to do a better job completing passes, especially against some of the run fronts he’s been playing against.

He was then asked if he’s entertained the thought of playing backup quarterback Joe Webb at all.

"Barring injury to Christian, we expect Christian to get back on track and have a good game on Sunday," he said.

That’s not exactly terrible news for the Lions. It’s been Webb - not Ponder - who’s hurt the Lions more in recent years.

In two career meetings against the Lions, Webb has rushed for 144 yards and completed 58 percent of his passes for 229 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

It was Webb who replaced Ponder early in the third quarter in a game against the Lions last after Ponder threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.

Ponder seems to have the confidence of his head coach, but what will happen if he struggles again Sunday?

It’s probably a safe bet the Lions are preparing for all scenarios at quarterback.