George Johnson had the best season of his NFL career with the Detroit Lions in 2014. He became a key reserve that season, and finished with six sacks, third most on the team behind Ndamukong Suh (8.5) and Ziggy Ansah (7.5).
He was a restricted free agent after that season, and Tampa Bay ended up trading for Johnson with the expectation he'd become a key component of their defensive line moving forward. That never materialized.
Injuries, weight gain and what Johnson described as letting his technique get sloppy, led to a less than memorable stint with the Buccaneers. He played in 15 games with five starts his first year in Tampa, recording 23 tackles and two forced fumbles, but he missed all of the 2016 season due to injury, and was part of the team's final cuts back in September.
Johnson worked out for the Lions shortly after being cut by Tampa Bay, and was told to drop his weight and stay ready. Johnson went from 270 to 260, which is where he was when he was in Detroit in 2014, and the phone rang early this week. He was re-signed by the Lions on Wednesday.
"One thing I learned (last two years) is when you get heavy, you get a little slower," Johnson said.
He's dropped the extra 10 pounds, and says he's quicker and his movements are more precise because of it.
The Lions have been able to get good pressure on both Carson Palmer and Eli Manning the first two weeks of the season. They're hoping Johnson can come in and contribute to that early success, and maybe catch some of the fire he had in 2014.
"Yeah, we like George and we think he gives us a veteran presence in the room, and he gives us a good motor and obviously, we hope he can get back to the form he was at in 2014," Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said Thursday.
In Detroit, Johnson is looking forward to getting back to an attacking scheme.
"They just want you to go," Johnson said of Detroit's scheme. "They don't care about anything else. They just want you to go. They don't want you to think. They don't want you to read. They just want you to attack."
Johnson says he can't wait to get back to playing that brand of football upfront.
Zach Zenner was given a good piece of advice when he was first entering the NFL. The people around him in the pre-NFL process made him very aware that opportunities are limited in this league, and can come at any time, so stay ready.
Zenner got an opportunity to carry the load for the Lions run game late last year because of injury, and did a good job. He started four games, and rushed 88 times for 334 yards (3.8 average) with four touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes.
But with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick back healthy, and the Lions trying to see what they have in second-year back Dwayne Washington, Zenner has been inactive the first two weeks of the season.
But Zenner says there's been no frustration with that, and he continues to prepare and stay ready for when his number is called.
"Whatever the decisions are, my job is just to roll with that," Zenner said. "Again, whenever I do get my opportunity, make the most of it. Whatever happens after that point, again, it's out of my control. Just keep rolling."
Zenner might just get another opportunity on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Washington injured his quad in New York on Monday, and sat out practice both Wednesday and Thursday. If he can't go Sunday, Zenner could fill his role.
"Yeah, there's a lot of things that go into your roster as you look at it," head coach Jim Caldwell said of Zenner. "Guys that you need up in situations with special teams. There's a lot of different factors.
"It does not certainly have any indication of what kind of – shouldn't give you any indication of what we think about Zach. Zach can run the football. Check back in the records. Zach is capable. And if he gets an opportunity to do it this week, I think you'll see him get it done. Believe in him. He's a smart guy, makes very few mistakes, and well rounded."
Atlanta could easily be 1-1 heading to Detroit Sunday night after narrowly escaping defeat in Chicago Week 1. The Bears had a 1st and goal from the Atlanta 5-yard line trailing 23-17 in the final thirty seconds of the contest, but couldn't punch it in. A dropped pass by running back Jordan Howard on second down most definitely could have been the winning score.
So, what did Chicago do to put themselves in an opportunity to beat the defending NFC Champions Week 1?
1. The Bears were very dedicated to putting defenders in the box, and stuffed Atlanta's versatile ground attack. Devonta Freeman had just 37 yards rushing on 12 carries. Atlanta had just 64 rushing yards as a team with a 2.8 average.
2. On the flip side, Chicago was able to dictate the pace of the game by running the football. They averaged 6.6 yards per carry, and totaled 125 yards on 19 carries. As a result, Chicago ran more plays (63) than Atlanta (55).
3. Chicago didn't give the Falcons any short fields or extra possession by turning the ball over. No turnovers for the Bears.
4. The Bears won the red zone. They converted touchdowns two of the three times they got into the red zone. They held Atlanta to just 1-for-3 in the red zone.
Unfortunately for the Bears, they couldn't seal the deal at the end of the game, but they certainly provided a winning formula.