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Allen Park — Any traces of optimism for the Lions likely largely lies with another strong season, and continued health, from running back Kerryon Johnson.

New running backs coach Kyle Caskey said Johnson needs to prepare for Year 2 with fresh eyes after a strong rookie season — when he was healthy. Johnson gained 641 yards in 10 games and showed glimpses of being the solid yet dynamic back Detroit's franchise has lacked for years.

“Kerryon has not played a full season, so taking the mentality of, ‘OK listen, I’ve played a half a season, I need to come back with that rookie mentality,” said Caskey, who came to Detroit from Cincinnati. “That there’s a lot that I still don’t know, and he’s been doing that.”

Caskey became Cincinnati’s running backs coach in 2014 and helped rookie Jeremy Hill to a 1,124-yard season.

Like Auburn’s Johnson, LSU’s Hill was an unheralded second-round pick out of the SEC.

Part of Hill’s success was because of consistency. In his first three seasons, Hill had 222, 223 and 222 carries, respectively. Johnson’s rookie season was over on Nov. 18 because of a knee injury. He had 118 carries.

“There have been a lot of players who weren’t well-known that have made big names for themselves, and he’s working in that direction,” Caskey said of Johnson. “He’s at the spot now where everyone knows he’s talented, and now it becomes a mental state of things. He needs to start understanding the overall game of NFL football.

“The speed of things is one thing, but once you start understanding what defenses are doing and how they’re doing it, that’s where things can really speed up for him where he can play faster. I think that’s where he’s been going.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.

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