Johnson adjusting to NFL, working with veterans

Running back Kerryon Johnson was a workhorse for the Auburn Tigers last season.

Detroit’s second-round pick this spring had three games last season where he reached at least 30 carries and two others of 28 and 29.

Johnson has no grand ideas he’ll get that much of the workload in the Lions’ backfield in the fall.

“It’ll be different,” he said after Tuesday’s minicamp practice. “That time, that 30-carry a game, that’s obviously not going to happen. It shouldn’t happen in college, it’s definitely not going to happen in the NFL. It’s going to be different.”

But different can be better, according to Johnson.

“Hey, that just means I should have more energy, right?” he said with a grin. “Every carry I get I should be definitely trying to score or get as many yards as I can, and I just have to play that way.”

Johnson averaged 24 carries over 12 games last season at Auburn on his way to 1,391 yards, 18 rushing touchdowns and SEC Offensive Player of the Year.

In Detroit, the Lions are expected to use more of a running back by committee approach after the signing of LeGarrette Blount in free agency and the return of Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah and others. It could very well be a week-to-week matchup-based rotation.

"I know people tend to look towards those teams that have just one consistent runner, because it makes it easy to evaluate," head coach Matt Patricia said earlier this offseason. "But I think that position in general has a lot of different degrees of variance to it, and if you can have that in that position, and quote-unquote call them running backs, but yet their jobs that they do are so vastly diverse, it makes it really hard on the defense.”

The Lions do appear to have a much more diverse backfield than they’ve featured in the past. Blount is a power back, who should help the Lions in some of the short yardage and goal line situations that they struggled to convert last season, though Blount's game isn’t limited to just that role.

Johnson is a patient and explosive runner, the kind of back that can run both inside and outside.

We all know what Riddick brings to the table in the pass game, and Abdullah is similarly good in that regard.

Zach Zenner is an all-around good back. Dwayne Washington has a size and speed element unique to Detroit’s backfield.

The expectation is for the Lions to keep four or five backs on the 53-man roster, so the competition for those final couple spots will be fierce come training camp.

As for Johnson, his biggest task right now is trying to learn as much as he can from the coaches and veteran players in becoming more consistent from one day to the next. Johnson said that’s one of the biggest things he’s learned he has to do since joining the vets in OTAs and minicamp.

View photos from Day 1 of Detroit Lions minicamp practice.

“That’s like a whole other level,” Johnson said of joining the vets. “Just the pace they work with on a daily basis. One day you might have a day like them but the next day they’re back and the next day they’re back and the next day they’re back, so it’s hard to keep up, but it’s making us young guys better.”

The addition of Blount has been especially good for the running back room in that regard.

“For me, especially, he brings a lot of experience,” Johnson said. “The guy has three Super Bowl championships. He knows what to do. He knows what it looks like. He’s good for advice. He knows how the game works and is all around a smart dude.”

The Lions drafted Johnson to be a big contributor for their new-look rushing attack, but he’s just one piece to the puzzle. It’s a role Johnson has embraced, and he’s looking forward to doing his part.

“I'm just coming out and working and wherever I fall is where I fall,” he said. “I’m trying to be the best I can be, so the team can be the best they can be, and at the end of the season, we’ll look back and see where we land.”

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