Speaking to reporters right after last season ended, it was easy to tell that missing the last month and a half of the season because of a knee injury really bothered Lions running back Kerryon Johnson.
“My goal, I said it at the combine, I said it in all those interviews is I want to finish seasons,” he said back in January. “Didn’t get to do it this year and that’s my plan for next year, year after that is I want to be able to finish seasons and be reliable and play my best football for a long time and that’s what I have to do.”
Johnson then talked about being accountable to his teammates. To him, that means being available all season and finishing strong. So, he went to work this offseason, getting bigger, stronger and faster, in the hope that he can be there for his teammates from Weeks 1-17.
“Last year I didn’t get this time,” Johnson said Thursday. “Last year, you’re preparing for the Combine and all that. You don’t really get a chance to get better at football and really get that much stronger and really work on your specific skills.
“I got a full three and a half months or whatever it (was) and I think that time that I’ve put in and the work I’ve put in, hopefully will pay off this season.”
Johnson had a good rookie season. He rushed for 641 yards on just 118 carries, and his 5.4 average per rush was the second best in the league last year. He also had two 100-yard performances to become the first Lions running back to reach the mark in a game since Reggie Bush in 2013.
It’s now about building on last season for Johnson. That’s important because he knows the Lions could lean on him and the running game more this upcoming season in new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense. Bevell’s offenses have finished in the top 10 in rushing percentage eight times in his 12 years as an OC.
“We all know what he likes to do,” Johnson said of Bevell. “We know what he brings to the table. Obviously, that’s the good news for me, but we’re a complete team. We’re trying to be a complete offense. We’re trying to be complete players.”
That started in earnest for Johnson right after his rehab was done. He focused on getting stronger, making sharper cuts and being an overall better and smarter player heading into his second season.
With a year under his belt, Johnson knows what to expect and how to prepare for the rigors of a long season. He joked Thursday that the proverbial rookie wall hit him in fall camp last year. The NFL season is long, but it goes by fast, too, and Johnson is ready for his second season.
“It doesn’t take you long to see what you need to do to be in this league,” he said. “Because guys are so good. I look up and we’re playing against Bobby Wagner and Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald, people who are superstars in the league. You realize very quickly what you need to do to be successful.”
Johnson is expected to be a big part of the Lions' offense in 2019, and has put in the work to try and make that a reality.