After a solid rookie season cut short by injury, Lions second-year running back Kerryon Johnson went to work this offseason with the opportunity to focus solely on football and his body. He said he went harder in his preparations heading into a season than he ever has before.
Johnson is hoping the hard work allows him to play a full season in 2019 and be a workhorse back for the Lions. How heavily Detroit plans to lean on Johnson, or if they’ll continue to deploy a running-back-by-committee approach remains to be seen.
“I’m healthy, that’s all (head coach Matt Patricia) needs to know, he’s going to give me the ball as many times as I can take,” Johnson said. “I mean, he’s going to be smart about it, but I’m a running back. They pay me to run the ball. I love to run the ball. I play football to run the ball, so that’s what I’m going to do.”
Running backs coach Kyle Caskey said earlier this week that the team hasn’t set a ceiling or floor on the amount of carries they plan to give Johnson. It’s really going to depend on the week, the flow of the game, and which player has the hot hand.
The release of Theo Riddick Saturday to make room for the signing of defensive tackle Mike Daniels could mean some added third-down duties for Johnson, and thus increase his workload even more.
Johnson finished second in the NFL last season averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He joined Billy Sims as the only rookies in team history to record at least 600 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards through their first 10 games. Kareem Hunt (2017) and Ezekiel Elliott (2016) are the only other rookies to produce the stat line since 2013.
“My confidence is always up,” Johnson said heading into his second season. “I always step on the field believing I’m the best one out there. I feel like that’s how you have to play the game, but the game will humble you, it certainly will do that, but my confidence is always high.”
Johnson injured his knee Week 11 vs. Carolina and missed the rest of the season. He’s dealt with injuries in college at Auburn, and has to prove he can stay healthy and be a contributor for 16 games. Johnson said after last season it was his main goal heading into this offseason and training camp.
“Kerryon is real insightful, he’s a really smart guy and truthful, so it’s a great statement by him,” Patricia said of Johnson’s comments about wanting to be available for an entire season’s slate of games. “He took that to heart and he went to work in the offseason and really made improvements with his body. He’s smart from that aspect of it and he trained hard.”
Johnson is expected to be a big part of Detroit offensive attack both as a runner and pass catcher. He, like all skill players on offense, wants the football as much as he can get it. His usage is expected to increase from his rookie season, but how much and in what ways is yet to be determined.
For his part, Johnson’s ready for anything the Lions want to throw his way.
“I play football,” he said. “That’s what I do, that’s what I’ve always done. I’ve been a running back my whole life. As long as they keep giving it to me, until my body breaks down, I’m going to keep going.”