ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Calvin Johnson is trying to stay positive after Nate Burleson's injury.
Burleson was coming off a big game last weekend at Washington, but he broke his arm in a car crash early Tuesday, so now the Lions will have to rely on Johnson and a number of less proven options at wide receiver. That didn't work out well last season, when Burleson hurt his leg and the Lions slumped to a 4-12 finish.
Johnson doesn't sound too worried about a repeat. In fact, he's hopeful some of his teammates will benefit from bigger roles.
"In the end, it's going to make us a very good receiver group," Johnson said.
Burleson's absence toward the end of last season didn't hurt Johnson's stats. He finished with 122 catches for a record 1,964 yards — but Detroit's offense could have used more balance. Aside from Johnson, there weren't many big-play threats for quarterback Matthew Stafford to throw to.
"We had guys coming in that didn't really know the playbook as well as we wanted them to," Johnson said. "Matt kind of had to feed me the rock a little bit."
Coach Jim Schwartz wasn't about to put any timetable on Burleson's return from an injury that required surgery.
"Every person heals at a different rate. Each position's a little bit different," Schwartz said Thursday. "All indications, it's gone well as far as the surgery goes, but it's not just the surgery, it's the rehab, how his body reacts and things like that. Like I said, he'll be back. How long it takes, we really don't know."
This weekend, Detroit hosts Chicago, which limited Johnson to eight catches for 106 yards over two games last season. In other words, the Lions may very well need significant contributions from someone other than their best receiver.
It looks like they'll have running back Reggie Bush back from a knee injury, and his speed and elusiveness — both as a runner and a receiver — has already added an extra element to Detroit's offense. Tight ends Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler and Joseph Fauria are also pass-catching threats. Fauria, an undrafted rookie out of UCLA, already has two touchdown receptions for Detroit.
The Lions also have other wide receivers with potential. Ryan Broyles was a second-round draft pick last year and had 22 catches as a rookie. He was limited to 10 games last season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He also tore the ACL in his left knee when he was a senior at Oklahoma.
Broyles has only played in one of the team's first three games, but this could be his chance to contribute more. It will take a lot to replace Burleson, who had six catches for 116 yards against Washington.
"He's got a huge personality," Broyles said. "A guy that all of us usually drive off of. ... It's a guy we look up to."
The Lions also may lean on wide receiver Kris Durham, who was with Detroit last season too. He's a former college teammate of Stafford's at Georgia.
"In the last two practices this week, we've had guys stepping up," Johnson said. "Broyles is getting a lot more burn. You know he's loving it, because he just wants to be back on the field. Durham's over there, he's handling his business. He's getting more and more experience."
Meanwhile, the Lions can expect Burleson to do whatever he can to make a positive impact. Even if he can't play for a while, indications are he'll be back around the team before too long, trying to help in any way he can.
Johnson said he had a chance to talk to Burleson.
"Nate's doing good," he said. "Nate's still the chipper guy we all know. We'll see him soon."
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