Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson was a bright spot for the Detroit Lions' offense this season, and looks to be a player the Lions can build around on that side of the football.
The Lions rushed for nearly 500 more yards this year than they did last season. They improved their average per carry from 3.4 yards to 4.1. Johnson is a big reason why.
The Lions kind of eased him into a No. 1 roll early on, but when he finally took the reins, he proved he could handle the load, until a left knee injury suffered Week 11 ended his season prematurely.
Speaking to reporters at locker clean out Monday, Johnson said his knee feels good and will be 100 percent ready to roll in time for the offseason training program. He also said the way his season ended, with him going on injured reserve, serves as motivation this offseason to do everything he can to play in every game next season.
"Running back is a tough spot, but when you're able to finish (16) games and give it your all (16) games, I feel like it puts your team in the best position to win," he said. "That's what I like to do, I like to win, and I like to be accountable and the one way you do that is by finishing."
Johnson still led the Lions this season with 641 rushing yards on just 118 carries for an average of 5.4 yards per carry in 10 games played. Only Green Bay's Aaron Jones had a higher yards per carry average (5.5) this season.
Johnson rushed for five touchdowns, and also caught 32 passes – which was part of his game that was a question mark coming in – for another 213 yards and a score.
He became the first Lions rusher to break the 100-yard barrier in a single game since Reggie Bush in 2013 with 101 yards Week 3 against New England. He did it again Week 7 in Miami with a career-high 158 yards on 19 carries.
"I just have to train harder," Johnson said of how he plans to be available for all 16 games in 2019. "Obviously, what I did this past offseason wasn't enough. So, I have to do more."
The good thing is Johnson has more time this offseason to prepare himself for next season. He's not training for the combine or his pro day like he was this offseason. There's no 40-yard dash prep or max bench press training. Instead, Johnson can take a fine-tooth comb to the things he thinks he needs to specifically work on.
Limiting some of the mental mistakes that come with being a rookie in this league is on that list, too.
Johnson's a cerebral player, and the experience he gained over the course of 10 games was invaluable. It should serve him well as he gets set to start preparing both physically and mentally for his second season.
"It's one thing to think about going to the NFL and think about playing against Luke Kuechly, Bobby Wagner and these guys, you know, and going out there and doing it and see the mindset that they approach the game with and they play the game with," Johnson said.
"It kind of inspires you and gives you that, 'Hey, what do I need to hold on to? What do I need to get a better grasp on this offseason and next season going through the year?' I think I learned some of those things."