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NOTEBOOK: Johnson striving to be a three-down back

Kerryon Johnson hasn't been in the NFL very long, but Detroit's rookie running back already knows that the more he can do, the better the chance he sees the field on gameday.

Johnson has shown the ability early on to be a factor in the passing game, something he didn't do a whole lot of in college at Auburn. Johnson said he takes pride in trying to show that he can be one of those rare three-down backs in this league. 

"I just like being able to have as many opportunities as I can," he said Thursday. "Being able to do a lot of different things gives you the most opportunities to help, the most opportunities to win and that's just what I like to do."

Johnson's rushed just 13 times for 60 yards (4.6 average) in two games, mostly because the Lions had to abandon the run due to large second-half deficits in both of their first two games.

But he does have eight receptions on the year for another 43 yards. The most receptions he had in any of his three seasons at Auburn was 24 last year as a junior. He's a third of the way to that total in just two games.

"I think Kerryon's a versatile guy," Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "He's still a really young player just trying to figure it out at the moment. I think there are a lot of tools in his game and catching out of the backfield is for sure one of them."

It's almost a situation where the Lions haven't been able to showcase Johnson's full repertoire because of the circumstances of their first two games.

Some of the running backs right now considered among the league's best — Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt — do it all, and thus stay on the field for more opportunities.

It's certainly way too soon to lump Johnson in with those established backs, but the same kind of skill set they possess – vision, toughness and the ability to play a role in the passing game – all seem to be there for Johnson. It's now just a matter of getting the opportunity to showcase it. 

"There's a lot of good quarterbacks and highly paid quarterbacks in this league, and the more options you can give them the better off your team is going to be," Johnson said.

"We want to be a good team and a good offense and we realize we have to execute in all phases. Within our position at running back that's running, that's blocking and that's catching. I try to be there for Matt (Stafford) if he's in trouble, to get it to me, and so far, he's said I'm doing alright with it."


The Patriots have 10 defensive linemen on their 53-man roster, and nine of the 10 have recorded a statistic for them.

Those players upfront range in size from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-2 and from 345 pounds down to 265. That doesn't include the seven linebackers New England has the roster, which they will also deploy as pass rushers throughout the course of a game.

"They're very specific for the roles they play," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of the Patriots defensive front. "You have to be very aware of those guys that are coming in, what they do, what they do well, how they use them and they disguise a lot of that stuff really good."

This Patriots' defense is a little different than the one Patricia ran before coming to Detroit. It's still very multiple, but they appear to want to get up the field more.

"A lot of multiplicity," Lions left tackle Taylor Decker said of the Patriots' defensive front. "They run a lot of guys through there, so you're going to see a bunch of different types of players.

"You have to do a good job scouting the individual players and then scouting their scheme and looks, because it's not going to be like just line up and play our defense that we play every day."

The Patriots rank in the Top 10 in the NFL holding opponents to a successful play percentage of just 46.4 percent, and in the top half of the league forcing negative yardage on 10.7 percent of opponent running plays through two games.


Detroit is one of seven teams in the NFL that has started the season 0-2. Also on that list is Houston, Buffalo, Oakland, Seattle, Arizona and the New York Giants.

Until those teams record a notch in the win column, the pressure continues to mount, and the restlessness from the fan base grows more uncomfortable.

A win against the New England Patriots Sunday night would not only be the first of the Matt Patricia era in Detroit, but according to veteran wide receiver Golden Tate, could start the train rolling down the right track for the Lions.

"They say the first one's always the toughest one to get," Tate said. "And after that they come in bunches. That's what we want to do is just play our football. We do that, I think we can beat and compete with anybody.

"We've just got to execute. I know we get tired of saying that, but it's the truth. We have great plays, we have great players. We've just need to be on the same page every single play. Play as a team. What I mean by that is offensively, defensively and special teams. Put it all together and we'll be fine."

That's obviously eluded this team the first two weeks of the season for a variety of reasons that have touched on all three phases.

Still, Tate believes the Lions have the right pieces to beat a team like New England, one of the gold standards in the league for more than a decade now.

"I think talent-wise, no doubt," he said. "Yeah, I do. I just think we kind of have to make a decision and just go out there and put it all out there.

"Last week obviously didn't end the way we wanted it to, but we played decent, I thought. There's some things we wanted to fix. But yeah, I see the sky being the limit for this organization."

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