Allen Park — The Lions’ offense this season will give defenses new looks on nearly every play. Wide receivers will regularly be in motion, running backs will line up as receivers and tight ends will be in the backfield as offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi tries to keep opponents guessing.
All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson won’t be exempt from all of those adjustments.
“He’s going to move around a lot,” Lombardi said. “You’ll see more motion from him. You’ll see him lined up at different spots, inside and outside.”
The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson is essentially every offensive coordinator’s dream outside receiver. He’s fast enough to beat single coverage, strong enough to make plays in double coverage and tall and long enough to make plays on imperfect passes.
But in New Orleans, where Lombardi spent the past seven seasons, the deployment of outside receivers is far from typical.
In 2013, Marques Colston, the Saints’ 6-foot-4 No. 1 receiver, started in the slot on 56 percent of his routes, according to Pro Football Focus.
Since being drafted in 2007, between 50.5 to 64 percent of Colston’s routes each season came from the slot. He’s led the team in receiving yards in five of his eight NFL seasons.
By contrast, Johnson started in the slot on 26.9 percent of his routes last season, and the most he ever started in the slot was 28.8 percent of routes in 2012 when, among other reasons, the Lions lost slot receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles to injury.
“It’s hard for a defense to know to target him,” Lombardi said of moving Johnson around. “If they want to roll coverage or double him, it’s harder if he’s in multiple spots.
“And then I think every play you look at, you might want a guy with his skill set — I mean, you’d like four of his skill sets — you may want Golden Tate inside for a certain play and you might want Golden outside and the same thing would apply for all of the receivers that you might have active.”
Part of the reason the Lions targeted Tate was his ability to play inside and outside because even though he’s only 5-foot-10, he has the speed and strength to get open against top cornerbacks. In Seattle, Tate started in the slot on 43.8 percent of routes in 2011, but only 13.8 percent in 2012 and 19.5 percent in 2013.
Johnson said going in motion before snaps will help the Lions determine the defense’s coverage scheme, but even though there are ways to predict how defenses respond to his various alignments, there’s no way to know for sure. And Johnson wants to see how the offense looks with him on the field Friday after missing the first two exhibitions.
“I’m as curious as anybody else, but the one thing that’s not going to change is the way we go out there and work,” Johnson said. “We’re still going to go out there and bust our butts.”
And even though the Lions added Tate and tight end Eric Ebron, Lombardi said he’ll try to get Johnson the ball “as much as possible,” no matter where he lines up.
“If they’re letting you throw the ball to him, you want to throw the ball to him — for sure,” Lombardi said.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has high expectations for right guard Larry Warford this year.
“I personally see Larry as a Pro Bowl guard this year,” Suh said.
Suh was praising the Lions’ offensive line as a whole and singled out Warford, the man he most often faces in practice. Warford had an incredible rookie season, allowing zero sacks on 1,158 snaps and becoming the go-to lead blocker on downfield runs and screens.
During one-on-one drills in training camp, Warford did well in his few opportunities against Suh, who’s coming off an All-Pro season.
“He’s continuing to challenge me as I challenge him,” Suh said.
…Safety DeJon Gomes (neck) missed practice for the third consecutive day since suffering an injury last week against the Raiders.
…Wide receiver TJ Jones (shoulder) was also out as he’s on the physically unable to perform list.
…As noted by the Lions, Friday’s game will feature four players who attended Southfield-Lathrup — defensive end Jason Jones and running back George Winn of the Lions and cornerback Alan Ball and receiver Allen Robinson of the Jaguars.