O'HARA: Johnson showing speed, willingness to learn

Rookie running back Ty Johnson has been an active student of football in his first offseason with the Detroit Lions.

He’ll ask questions to get the benefit of anyone’s experience -- coaches, fellow running backs and even offensive linemen.

There’s a lot to learn, especially in the passing game because of his limited experience, in the transition from the offenses he played in at the University of Maryland to what the Lions are installing under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.

“All of them have given me different aspects to look at,” Johnson said at the end of mandatory minicamp. “In the running back room, we chop it up. Even after the day’s done, when I catch one of them walking out of the locker room at the same time, I’ll ask them questions – picking their brains.

“Even talking to the offensive linemen – how the play’s going to be run, the concept. You have running backs talking to linemen, linemen talking to offensive linemen, being cohesive as a unit.”

One thing he doesn’t have to ask about is how to run fast. Speed stands out in drills and practices without pads, and Johnson has stood out. He’s as fast as was advertised when the Lions drafted him in the sixth round.

He was asked what it’s like to have that speed as an asset.

“I’m not talking about just me,” he said. “When anyone gets open, you’ve just got to use that speed. Whatever you’ve got in your arsenal, use it and run.”

There have been differing reports on Johnson’s 40-yard dash time. He was not invited to the Combine, and his Pro Day 40 was reported to range from an unofficial (and highly unlikely) 4.26 seconds to the range of 4.35-4.40.

From watching him in the offseason workouts, the eye test would rank him as fast enough – especially at 5-10 and 208 pounds.

Johnson’s speed already has been on display at Ford Field. He carried 15 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns in Maryland’s 36-30 loss to Boston College in the 2016 Quick Lane Bowl. He had touchdown runs of 62 and 30 yards.

He also had two catches for 15 yards.

The two catches reflect how seldom he was used as a receiver at Maryland. It’s the area of his game that needs the most development. Johnson had 29 catches in 46 games, with 16 of his catches coming in 2016.

View the best photos from 2019 Detroit Lions minicamp.

He had 13 catches in 33 games over the other three seasons.

“They told me to run the ball, so I ran the ball,” he said.

And he did that well, when given the opportunity. For his career he rushed for 2,635 yards and 17 TDs, with a career average of 7.6 yards per carry.

In 2016 he had personal highs of 1,006 yards rushing, 6 TDs and 9.1 yards per carry.

Maryland’s football program was marked by change during Johnson’s four seasons. He played in three offenses for four head coaches.

“It helped me to be able to adapt and learn,” he said. “It just helped me grow as a player.”

He’ll have to grow in the receiving game to catch a role with the Lions. That’s not uncommon for rookie running backs. Kerryon Johnson had a similar transition last year and proved to be more than competent as a receiver.

“There are a lot of fast guys out there,” head coach Matt Patricia said. “The skill set is more than just speed. You can see his quickness, his vision as a runner, as a receiver. He has the ability to get out and catch the ball really well.

“His big thing now is trying to learn the offensive system and all the different nuances we do in the NFL game as opposed to the college game.”

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