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Lions took weight-and-see approach with George Johnson

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cut defensive end George Johnson, it wasn’t long before the Detroit Lions came calling.

The Lions entered the season with question marks along the defensive line, with two undrafted rookies in the mix at defensive end. It only made sense to call a dial up the 29-year-old veteran who had his best professional season with the team in 2014.

But when Johnson worked out for the Lions, they weren’t thrilled with the shape he was in. They told him to go home, drop some weight and they’d check in again later.

Fast forward two weeks, fueled by a commitment to cardio in the morning, an afternoon workout and improved diet, Johnson had dropped 10 pounds and was back to the 260-pound playing weight he was at when he recorded six sacks for the Lions.

Of course, after watching the Lions rack up six sacks the first couple of weeks, he wasn’t sure he’d still be needed.

“Just watching them the first two weeks, it was like, ‘Man, if they bring me in, where do I fit in?’ ” Johnson said.


But the Lions still felt he could be an upgrade, signing him this week and waiving rookie Alex Barrett.

Johnson’s six sacks in 2014 were the only six of six-year career, but the Lions view him as a good fit for the defense’s attacking scheme and anticipate he’ll be able to recapture some of the production he offered in the past.

“He’s still the same guy that works extremely hard, heavy-handed guy that can make some things happen and the rest of it we’ll see,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “I mean, he had an outstanding year that year, and those are hard to duplicate, but he will contribute to our team.”

Lions’ Zenner stands ready for next opportunity

Johnson said he never wanted to leave Detroit, but wasn’t interested in talking about the trade that sent him to Tampa Bay as a restricted free agent in 2015. In Tampa, he bulked up to 270 pounds, struggled with his discipline and suffered a season-ending injury in 2016. It’s been one lesson after another.

“I just wasn’t as precise as I used to be,” Johnson said. “When I was here, I was more precise with the things that I did, I was more honed in on my technique and things like that. When I got away, I got away from it. I felt I started feeling there was a lot of things I could get away with, and got away from the things I do best.”

Back at a lighter weight, he’s ready to get his career back on track.

“When you’re carrying less, it’s like you’re not dragging a sled behind you,” Johnson said. “You’re playing a little more quicker, movements are more precise.”

Injury report

In addition to Washington, the Lions were without center Travis Swanson (ankle), linebacker Jarrad Davis (concussion) and safety Tavon Wilson (shoulder) during Thursday’s practice.