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O'HARA: Josh Johnson, Lions looking for familiarity in backup quarterback role

Josh Johnson laughed when asked if he keeps his phone on speed answer.

“My agent does,” he said.

When teams come calling with potential job offers, Johnson answers. He’s kept himself available for teams looking for a quarterback willing to play a backup role.

The Detroit Lions are Johnson’s 13th team since being drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fifth round out of San Diego in 2018.

Johnson hasn’t gotten much playing time. He’s played 33 games with eight starts, and has completed 148 of 268 passes with eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

That’s the familiar situation Johnson finds himself in again with the Lions. A concussion sustained by Tom Savage in last week’s opening exhibition game against the New England Patriots left a void on the depth chart.

With Savage out for an indefinite period while going through the concussion protocol, the Lions were down two quarterbacks – starter Matthew Stafford and David Fales, who most likely would have been No. 3 on the depth chart had Savage remained healthy.

Johnson was not with a team when the Lions called with an offer to come work out. He had a connection with the Lions from having spent part of the 2017 season with the Texans. Current Lions quarterback coach Sean Ryan was on the Texans staff at the time.

That connection gave Johnson and the Lions’ staff something both were looking for in this circumstance.

“You try to find familiarity,” Johnson said. “At least you can go out on the field and get the offense going, get the tempo gong – execute practice and continue to learn daily.

“Teammates, details – you miss that when you’re not there in the offseason.”

Johnson caused a stir – and a positive one, at that – with his play late last season with the Washington Redskins. He was signed in December when the team was hit by injuries at the quarterback position.

Jonson wound up playing four games and starting three. He won his first start – a 16-13 win over Jacksonville. He completed 16 of 25 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. He did not have an interception.

It was one of the feel-good stories of the 2018 season. The then 32-year-old Johnson had not thrown a TD pass since the 2011 season with Tampa Bay. He had played in only three games since that 2011 game and had not thrown a pass in a regular-season game.

Head coach Matt Patricia said Johnson’s connection with Ryan, and his recent starting experience in Washington combined to make him a candidate under the circumstances created by Savage’s injury.

“Its part of the business,” Patricia said. “It’s what it is, and he's going to go out and we’ll just evaluate it as we go along.

“Certainly, a big part of it is that it’s someone that has a previous relationship ... which is what we’re looking for in these types of situations.”

View photos from Day 14 of Detroit Lions Training Camp presented by Rocket Mortgage.

Johnson follows the roster moves involving quarterbacks, but he did not know about Savage’s injury – only that the Lions were bringing him in for a tryout.

“You always keep your eye on the ticker – see what movements are happening,” Johnson said. “My agent told me there was an opportunity to come here and work out. I got thrown straight into the fire. My head’s been spinning. This is a great opportunity for me.”

The many stops he has made help him when he gets to a new team.

“Just familiarity with football,” he said. “I noticed that going out there, being able to go against a defense. I don’t have a clue what they’re going to do. I’m really learning the offense trying to figure out what we’re trying to do.

“I have a lot of things to pull from, from bouncing around the league.”

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