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O'HARA: Johnson embracing change on & off the field

It has been an offseason of dramatic change on and off the playing field, and Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson welcomes those changes with an eye on what they can mean in the future.

On the playing field, Johnson likes the addition of D’Andre Swift, a multi-talented running back drafted with the third pick in the second round in April.

And away from the field, Johnson has embraced discussions among teammates and the impact of demonstrations and protests regarding social justice and police brutality stemming from the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman.

"This is something that's been going on for a long time," Johnson said Wednesday in a Zoom interview from his home in Huntsville, Ala. "I think people on both sides are getting fed up.

"That's how, to me, you solve a problem. There has to be equal outrage from all parties involved. At the end of the day, everybody wants to live happily. Everybody wants to live peacefully. Everybody wants to live freely.

"Hopefully, change can come. It may take years. It may take decades."

Head coach Matt Patricia had the team discuss the social issues in two days of meetings last week. There were powerful exchanges, based on what safety Duron Harmon and center Frank Ragnow said in interviews with the media last Friday.

"I enjoy our team keeping up with it," Johnson said. "I enjoy the conversations we had. It was very eye opening."

Johnson was not blindsided when the Lions drafted Swift, although he said he did not watch the draft. He watched two movies of the Harry Potter series (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts 1 & 2).

When healthy, Johnson has been a productive player in his two seasons with the Lions. In 18 games he has rushed for 1,044 yards and five TDs. He also has 42 receptions for 340 yards and two TDs.

However, knee injuries forced him to miss 14 games – six as a rookie and eight in 2019.

"I knew we were going to draft a running back eventually," Johnson said. "I love having a running mate. I love winning games."

He is well aware of what Swift can add to the running game and the overall offense from competing against him while playing for Auburn in the SEC. Swift played at Georgia.

"I'm excited; he's a phenomenal player," Johnson said. "I remember playing against him in college. I hated seeing him every time.

"That kid ... every time he steps on the field, he's lightning in a bottle. He's a threat to go 80 yards, 70, 60 every time he touches it. I can learn from him, and he can learn from me."

Johnson sees himself and Swift as having complementary running styles.

"We're two different people," he said. "He's a lot more elusive than I am. I think everybody would agree with that. Having multiple backs capable of running the football ... whether the style is different or the style is the same, it takes stress off one another."

There has been a reshuffle up front on the offensive line. Left tackle Taylor Decker and Ragnow are the only returning starters who are certain to be back at their position. Both guards and right tackle could have new starters.

"We have had a lot of movement," Johnson said. "With movement comes opportunity. We have a lot of guys who've played a lot of football. We have a lot of guys that are versatile.

"At the end of the day, they move people. I run."

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