Kerryon Johnson embraces lead-back role as rest of Lions' backfield takes shape

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
Lions running back Kerryon Johnson had a career-high 26 carries Sunday against the Chiefs. It was the second straight week he set a career-high in carries.

Allen Park — He’s got the perfect first name for it, and his position coach says he has the perfect attitude for it.

As the carries keeping piling on Kerryon Johnson, the second-year back is ready.

“He’s the kind of guy that wants to do that,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey said Wednesday. “It hasn’t been an issue with him feeling overwhelmed or anything like that. He actually has been asking to get as involved as possible in every area.”

Johnson set a career high in rush attempts on Sunday for the second straight week. He hit the 20-carry plateau for the first time in a Week 3 win at Philadelphia and then toted 26 times for 125 yards in a 34-30 loss to Kansas City.

After getting 2.6 yards per carry through three games, Johnson racked up 4.8 yards per run against the Chiefs.

It was a bit of a coming-out party for the running attack that was promised with the hire of Darrell Bevell as offensive coordinator.

"We talked about how we were kind of one guy away,” Bevell said Wednesday. “We had 10, 11 guys doing a pretty good job and we needed all 11 working together. I think you could see that last week.”

Through four games, Johnson has 74 carries after he had just 118 in 10 games last season before being shut down early with a knee injury. Extrapolated over 16 games, Johnson is on a 296-carry pace, which would be the most for any Detroit back since James Stewart in 2000. In each of the last four NFL seasons, only one running back has had 300 carries each season.

More:Four Downs: Johnson carries the load; Lions make case as NFC North contender

If Bevell and head coach Matt Patricia are looking for more relief, the options could get more enticing as the year goes on.

After C.J. Anderson was released after two games, the staff was left with Paul Perkins, J.D. McKissic and rookie Ty Johnson as tailbacks behind Kerryon Johnson on the active roster.

Perkins, who has not yet been active on game day, joined the team Sept. 17, and McKissic was added Sept. 1, getting 27 snaps on Sunday. Both should be more entrenched as time goes on.

As for the rookie, Kerryon Johnson’s own rookie season could foretell some of his own load spells this season.

Kerryon Johnson carried the ball 50 times in his first five games last season, and then had 68 carries in the next five games after the bye week. Ty Johnson has 13 carries through four games.

“As a rookie, there’s a lot being thrown at him, not just on the football field,” Caskey said. “When that’s happening during the week, and him finding his routine, well he’s starting to find that.”

Perfectly timed

Some around the Lions might be singing a different tune during the dog days over the next 12 weeks.

But for now, the bye week is coming at a perfect time for players such as linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who can rest and recover mentally from the rookie grind.

“He’s probably a whole college season into this season in the NFL, if you think of the rookies reporting early, the preseason, four preseason games, training camp, these four games,” linebackers coach Al Golden said. “He probably needs a break right now. I think it’ll be good for him.”

Tavai was forced into action as a starter for two games because of the ankle injury to Jarrad Davis. Tavai played 121 snaps the first two games, then 56 in the next two after Davis returned.

“I know he’s anxious to get in a groove and play a little more, and we’re anxious to play him more,” Golden said of Tavai, a second-round pick out of Hawaii.

Golden: Jones wasn’t a spy

Golden said Christian Jones was not assigned to spy on Patrick Mahomes on Sunday during a blown fourth-and-8 opportunity for the Lions’ defense.

“On that particularly play, he was definitely in coverage,” Golden said Wednesday. “There’s some communication things that guys have latitude to do. I think at the end of the day, there’s a couple plays down the stretch that we all could’ve executed better.”

On the play that could’ve effectively sealed the game for Detroit, Jones and safety Tavon Wilson both followed running back Darrel Williams out of the backfield.

The play eventually resulted in Mahomes running for 15 yards, preserving the game-winning drive in the 34-30 escape.

Patricia said Sunday he has to coach the play better.

“I think the guys understand what we did wrong, and how hard it is to prepare week in and week out, especially for teams at that level,” Golden said. “We gave ourselves some chances, and in all three areas, we just needed one or two more plays to make a difference.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.