'Next guy up': Inexperienced RB committee slated to replace Lions' Kerryon Johnson
Allen Park — The healthy Lions running backs have one collective rushing touchdown between them, and Matthew Stafford has outrushed the whole group combined.
Down their feature back for two months, the Lions are rolling with four running backs short on experience and long on responsibility: Ty Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Paul Perkins and Tra Carson.
There’s no good answers when your No. 1 running back goes down, but if the Lions are going to use this committee on Sunday to replace Kerryon Johnson, it’s going to a green one.
If there is a feature back, it’ll likely be rookie Ty Johnson, a sixth-round pick out of Maryland.
After Kerryon Johnson went out with an injury in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to Minnesota, Ty Johnson shouldered most of the load. He played 49 snaps to McKissic’s 19.
“If they call my number, then I’m ready to go,” Ty Johnson said. “If they want to utilize me or any of the other running backs, when that comes, it’ll come.”
Short of any moves leading up to Tuesday’s trade deadline — with Miami’s Kenyan Drake and Melvin Gordon of the Los Angeles Chargers the names most heavily mentioned in trade rumors — the Lions' quartet has combined for 247 NFL carries and 949 yards.
The one rushing touchdown — scored by McKissic with Seattle in 2017 — stacks up unfavorably to the league average. This year, across the NFL, a touchdown is scored in every 29 rushing attempts.
“The next guy up,” said Stafford, who has rushed for 1,083 yards and 14 touchdowns in his 11-year career. “It’s going to take all the guys that we have.
“It’s something that we’re going to have to deal with and we’re going to try to get as many reps as we possibly can with these guys and get them ready to go.”
Ty Johnson has 83 yards on 23 carries this season.
"Honestly, the thing about where we were a year ago with Kerryon when he was young in his career at this point, we were still trying to learn about him and what the value he was going to add to our offense too," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "Ty is in the same boat."
Perkins was elevated from the practice squad on Wednesday and could face his former New York Giants teammates on Sunday, joining Johnson, McKissic, Carson and fullback Nick Bawden on the roster.
Carson actually played against the Lions for Green Bay on Oct. 14 and was acquired three days later from waivers.
"We have a different set of guys, and we need to learn what Tra does well as quickly as we can. What are his strengths and weaknesses?” offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Tuesday. “We have a good feel for J.D. and Ty, and we’re going to accentuate those qualities that they have and minimize the areas that we don’t think that will help us and help them be able to put their best foot forward out there.
“That’s all we can do — just move ahead with the guys that we have and just put them in positions to be successful.”
Kerryon Johnson underwent knee surgery on Tuesday and was placed on injured reserve, meaning he’s out of action for at least eight weeks. He could return for the final two games of the season after suffering the second substantial knee surgery of his career. He was limited to 10 games as a rookie, also because of a knee injury.
Ty Johnson said he has communicated with Kerryon Johnson since the injury.
“He just texted us all in a group saying he was proud of us, by going in there and just handling it the way we did,” Ty Johnson said. “Very positive.”
Perkins, 24, played 25 games combined for the Giants in 2016 and 2017. He was signed by the Lions on Sept. 17 and was active for the Green Bay game on Oct. 14, playing one snap on special teams. He has 153 carries for 546 yards and zero touchdowns in his career.
Perkins was released and then signed to the practice squad last week. The team also signed running back Wes Hills to the practice squad for the second time this season.
The Lions have struggled on both sides with the run, allowing a fifth-worst 139.2 yards per game, and sitting 18th with 103.2 yards per game.
One reason for optimism is the Giants’ porous rushing defense, which has allowed 131.4 yards per game, seventh-worst in the league.
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.