Lions might lean on Zach Zenner if Kerryon Johnson can't play
Allen Park — It's not great news, but it's also not the worst possible outcome.
According to multiple reports, Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson has a sprained knee and is considered week-to-week. That's far better than some initial concern that the rookie rusher had suffered a potential season-ending ACL tear.
With three days to go before the team's next game, a Thanksgiving matchup with the Chicago Bears, teammates weren't ready to rule out Johnson playing this week.
"I’m not sure if we’re going to need to (replace him), to be honest with you, but if we do, you just have to have a bunch of guys step up," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "Everybody has got to play a little bit better and take some of that responsibility on themselves."
Johnson was injured during the third quarter of Detroit's 20-19 win over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. He was slow to get up after reversing field and being tackled by a pair of defenders on the 3-yard gain.
After a brief examination at the training table where Johnson looked to be in considerable pain, he was taken to the locker room for further evaluation.
Before exiting the contest, Johnson had rushed for 87 yards on 15 carries and caught two passes for 10 yards. On the season, the second-round pick out of Auburn has gained 641 yards on the ground, at a 5.4 yards-per-carry clip, while hauling in 32 receptions for another 213 yards. He's scored four touchdowns, including an 8-yard romp around the left edge against the Panthers.
Assuming Johnson is out against Chicago, Detroit will lean heavily on LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner to carry the load against the Bears' No. 1-ranked run defense.
"I’m not sure what his situation is, but we’ve dealt with it in other areas on our team before, just next guy up, let’s go," Stafford said. "We’ve got a bunch of guys in that room that are talented. If they need to play more, they’ll play more. If not, we’ll roll with what we got."
It could be tough sledding for the trio, who are collectively averaging 2.6 yards per carry this season.
Given Blount's struggles over the past month (16 yards on 21 carries) and the team's reluctance to hand the ball to Riddick (nine carries on 246 offensive snaps), the Lions could look for more from Zenner, who recently re-signed with the team after breaking two bones in his back during the preseason.
"He’s done a great job since he’s been back. He’s done a lot out at practice that we feel very confident with him out there," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "He’s just always ready to go."
Zenner, who has always been reluctant to talk about his role increasing because of an injury to his teammate, stuck to that script in the locker room on Monday, but noted he'll be ready if called upon.
"Absolutely, but first though, no matter what it means for me, it’s always disappointing to see a teammate get injured," Zenner said. "It’s no different for this one. Kerryon is a good teammate, he’s a good person, good friend. It’s certainly tough to see. I don’t know what the situation is, hopefully he’ll be back, ready to go. But if not, I’ll be ready to do what I’m asked."
If Johnson is unable to play, Zenner said it's important to not go overboard when trying to replace the production.
"I can just speak for me, personally, not try to do too much, just stay within your own strengths and try to help out the team as much as you can in that area, not try to go outside yourself and be something you’re not," he said.