Banged-up wide receiver Calvin Johnson still a force for Detroit Lions
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Calvin Johnson didn't practice for the Lions on Thursday — and that's a report Detroit fans may need to get used to.
Doesn't mean he'll be any less of an asset Sunday.
"Calvin at any percent ... is a bonus for me or anybody else," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.
Johnson toughed out Detroit's 31-14 victory over Jacksonville last weekend, catching seven passes for 129 yards after getting a pain-killing shot in his left knee. The All-Pro receiver is still banged up, but even if his practice time remains limited, he's a big part of the Lions' offense.
Up next is a trip to Minnesota. The Vikings beat Detroit on Sept. 30, knocking Johnson around in the process. The 6-foot-5 Johnson was hit in the head and neck area by Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. He was also hit in the end zone in that game, failing to hold on to a potential touchdown.
Although he says he's feeling better now, there were some lasting effects from those collisions.
"Actually had some nerve damage," Johnson said. "Taking those hits, man, they're real violent. They definitely have a lot of lingering impact. ... Stuff shooting down your arms and stuff like that."
Now it's the knee that's a concern.
"It's coming along. Definitely feels better than it was at this point last week," Johnson said. "I've just been doing a lot of stuff in weight room, just to strengthen the muscle around it."
The rest of the NFL could barely contain Johnson last season, when he caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. This season, he's on pace to post similar numbers — except that he's only caught one TD pass.
Last weekend it wasn't clear how effective he could be because of the knee, but he ended up playing one of his best games of the season.
"I always expect the ball," he said. "The production I had, it was actually very good considering what I was dealing with."
Detroit needs Johnson to be a force, especially with receiver Nate Burleson out with a broken leg. The Lions (4-4) are in last place in the NFC North, but they're very much in the hunt for a wild card. The remaining schedule is tough, with two games against Green Bay and one each against Houston, Atlanta and Chicago.
This weekend's game starts a stretch of three in 12 days for the Lions, including their annual contest on Thanksgiving.
"It's a tough stretch for everybody, whether you're hurt or not," Johnson said. "It's going to be a grind."
One encouraging sign last weekend for Detroit was the emergence of the running game.
Mikel Leshoure rushed for 70 yards and three touchdowns, and Joique Bell ran for 73 yards and a TD. The Lions set a season high with 149 yards on the ground — exactly what the offense needed with Johnson on the mend and the passing game not looking quite as explosive as expected.
"We'd like to build on it," Linehan said. "It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but we feel confident in our ability as we're moving forward in our run game and having some things that we're doing. Backs are getting confidence, they're running good."
Meanwhile, Johnson is managing his recovery carefully.
Sitting out practice is not an ideal situation, but if it's necessary, he can adjust.
"I do know what I need to do by Sunday," Johnson said. "Experience helps with that."