Calvin Johnson did not play last week against the Packers and the Lions managed just 286 yards of offense. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park – Calvin Johnson was on the practice field Thursday, and that's never a bad sign.
But both Johnson and coach Jim Schwartz were quick to reiterate that his status for the game at Cleveland won't be determined until he goes through his early workout Sunday.
"It's definitely improved," Johnson said of his ailing right knee. "I am feeling better and I will just leave it at that."
With his knee in a brace, Johnson went through warm-ups and all the position drills, which include a lot of running and cutting in tight spaces. He did not run any routes during the 30 minutes the media was allowed to watch, nor did he take part in the skeleton drills with the offense.
"It feels good to be out there with my teammates," said Johnson, who has missed just five games in his six-plus seasons. "That's always good to build that camaraderie, not that it ain't there, but for me to be out there with my guys is always good."
Johnson didn't practice Thursday last week, but he did practice Friday and still couldn't go on Sunday. Schwartz was asked if it meant anything that Johnson was able to get back on the field a day earlier this week.
"Probably not," he said. "It's just going to depend on how he feels when we get to game day. He's no different than the 46 other guys. When we make those determinations, we don't make them Wednesday or Thursday or Friday."
Johnson is 28 and has been playing on aching knees for the last two seasons. Thus far, he has not needed surgery.
"I am not worried about things like that right now," he said, when asked about any long-term concerns. "This is just the results of playing this game."
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan also believes this is a short-term setback.
"The guy's a pro," Linehan said. "He plays the game extremely hard so he's going to miss a game or two here and there. But nobody works as hard as Calvin does at getting back and getting ready to play. I don't worry about that. This is as tough a guy as there is."
In the meantime, the Lions’ offense is preparing two game plans, just like it did for the Packers last week – one with Johnson and one without him.
"We have a contingency plan for it, but it certainly helps to have him out there; which is the understatement of the year," Linehan said. "We have other guys, whether he is available or not, who have to step up and do things for us. We saw some growth from some people last week."
If Johnson is out again, receiver Kevin Ogletree could play a bigger role. His first practice with the Lions was last Thursday and he caught two passes in the six snaps he got on Sunday.
Slot receiver Ryan Broyles could also play a bigger role this week.
"Hopefully Calvin will be back but we are planning on other guys being able to step us if he is not on the field," Linehan said.
The question was asked whether having to prepare two sets of plans might be especially difficult considering how receivers' roles would be significantly altered depending on Johnson's availability.
"I don’t think it should affect the way they prepare at all," Johnson said. "You come to work every day and you should have a purpose. You should have a purpose for yourself on that practice field and in the meetings. Learn what we're trying to do to those guys (the Browns). Whether somebody is out on the field or not it shouldn't affect the way you go about your business."