Head coach Matt Patricia made it clear earlier this offseason when speaking to fans at the annual Season Ticket Member Summit, that he likes the running back by committee approach on offense.
“I think it’s a position-specific thing where those guys, they take a lot of hits,” Patricia said of the running back position. “They’re in those situations a lot where their bodies are taking some pounding, so you want to be conscious of how many plays they’re getting, especially early on in the year.
“And obviously, we just want to win. That’s the most important thing. But you do have to look at big picture and say, ‘OK, great, we could win a couple now, but if we wear this guy out and he doesn’t help us in the long run then what’s the trade off?’”
The Lions’ top four backs on the roster – Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Zach Zenner and Theo Riddick – all have NFL playing experience. Johnson is expected to be the featured back of that room, but as Patricia said, a lot of backs are also expected to get their hands on the football in Darrell Bevell’s system.
Even with that being the expectation, Johnson told reporters last Thursday he approaches his training like he’s getting ready to carry the football 30 times a game.
“My last year in Auburn did teach me that,” he said. “Prepare every day like you’re getting 30 carries, so if you get eight, you’re like, ‘Wow. OK, I’m ready to go back at it again next week and the next week and the week after that.
“Obviously, that’s not realistic, unless you’re like Ezekiel Elliott, but that’s the kind of mindset I go in with.”
Johnson had a promising rookie season cut short by six games due to a knee injury. He was second in the NFL with a 5.4 average per attempt and twice ran for 100-plus yards, breaking the streak of games dating back to 2013 the Lions had without a 100-yard rusher in a game.
He even smiled a bit when asked about Bevell’s offense when the subject came up Thursday.
“We all know what he likes to do,” Johnson said of Bevell, in reference to the fact that Bevell’s offenses in Minnesota and most recently in Seattle usually finished in the top of the league in run percentage.
Johnson figures to be a key component of the run game this season for the Lions, even in a committee approach.
The fact that he trains and prepares like he’s about to be a 30-carry back is a good sign he’s putting in the work and is readying himself to be even more productive in 2019.