Justin Rogers, Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo discuss Bob Quinn's end-of-the-year news conference. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — After Kerryon Johnson finished his first season on injured reserve, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn is hopeful a full NFL offseason, compared to one focused on preparing for scouting combine drills, will better prepare the young running back to make it through a full 16-game slate.
“I would say the majority of the rookies and the young players, we talk a lot about their body because the college season is shorter, the NFL season is longer,” Quinn said. “You’re going to take more hits, you’re going to take more practice reps, all those things add up.
"So, what they do in the offseason is really dramatically changed from what they used to do because last January and February, Kerryon Johnson, Frank Ragnow, DeShawn Hand, what are they doing? They’re training for the combine. They’re trying to make their 40 faster, they’re vertical jump (higher) and all of that. But now they have to say, ‘All right, how can I get my body in the best shape to play an entire season.’"
The Lions closely monitored Johnson’s workload during his debut season, limiting him to fewer than 12 carries per week and never giving him more than 19. Still, the second-round pick out of Auburn only made it through 10 games before a knee injury ended his year.
Johnson, talking to the media last week when the team cleared out their lockers for the offseason, shared his general manager’s sentiments.
“I’ve just got to train harder," Johnson said. "Obviously, what I did this past offseason wasn’t enough, so I’ve got to do more. I have more time to do more without having to prepare for the combine and all that stuff."
Johnson’s durability was a concern entering the league. He had suffered three shoulder injuries since high school. He also dealt with a sprained MCL, ribs, hamstring and ankle injuries during that time.
And after carrying the ball a grueling 285 times for Auburn in 2017, some worried about how the slender-framed back would handle the pounding he’d take between the tackles at the professional level.
Quinn brushed those concerns aside when they were brought up the night Johnson was drafted.
“He’ll hold up,” Quinn said last April. “He’s a guy that they run inside the tackles primarily in that offense, if you know (Auburn coach) Gus Malzahn’s offense. They basically run between the guards, so I think this guy’s very versatile that he can run inside, but I think we’ll use him more to run outside as well. So, listen, any player you take, I’d say, any position except for maybe corner or receiver out of the SEC, they’re tough and they’re physical. So, we feel really good about that. There’s no issues with his durability for us.”
Prior to the injury, Johnson was playing well. He tallied 854 yards from scrimmage and averaged an impressive 5.4 yards per carry, second in the NFL to Green Bay’s Aaron Jones.
Johnson’s performance has given Detroit newfound optimism in its ground game as they embark on finding a new offensive coordinator capable of taking advantage of a potentially balanced attack.
“That was one thing that was an offseason priority for us, in terms of kind of having a more balanced offense, and I think that’s something we did do,” Quinn said. “We didn’t have as much passing success, but we had much more running success. I think that’s something that we want to build this team around, because I think that lasts over the long haul.”