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Lions running back Kerryon Johnson isn't fazed by change in role

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

There's no question it's been a different type of season for Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson.

After serving as the lead back in the team's stable his first two seasons, he's been relegated to a third-down role this season. 

Lions running back Kerryon Johnson has 109 yards rushing on 29 carries this season.

That's meant more pass protection and less touches. Far less touches. In fact, prior to Sunday's game against the Vikings, he had gone 21 days without a carry. 

But in that loss to the Vikings, Johnson got four totes, gaining 29 yards and showing he can still contribute in that facet of the game. That's as many yards as starter Adrian Peterson had with twice as many rushing attempts. 

"Last week was pretty fun, honestly," Johnson said about getting back in the ball-carrying rotation. "Getting to run the ball again was really nice. I was pretty stoked about that. But week to week, I just prepare like any other time — last year, the year before, when I was expected to the run the ball a lot by myself. That's the way I go through practice. I take every run seriously in practice. That's the only way you can stay ready for when you actually get the ball in the game. I just keep on about it like nothing has changed."

But plenty has changed.

Peterson, the future Hall of Famer, is still starting despite struggling, while second-round pick D'Andre Swift is seeing the most playing time and touches. And even though Johnson isn't getting the ball as much, he's thriving with what he's being asked to do, developing into one of the best pass-blocking backs in the league this season. 

And the coaches couldn't be happier with his attitude and performance. 

"I mean, everything Kerryon has done has (been) exactly what we wanted him to do," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "And he's played at a high level from the very first day that he's been out there, whether it's running the ball, whether it's protecting, whether it's doing all the little things we've asked him to do.

"He's doing a phenomenal job and we'll continue to work him in the mix."

He's certainly capable of more, but after suffering significant knee injuries each of the past two seasons, Johnson isn't complaining about the way his body is feeling at the midpoint of the 2020 campaign.

"Last year, I felt like I played a whole season and I played six or seven games," Johnson said. "Just from those first five before I hurt my knee, just the games, with the fall camp, with the summer, with the practices week to week, mentally and physically, I was already toast. I don't have that same feeling this year. I don't think Swift does, and I don't think (Peterson) does. You know, I've always been a big fan of the running back-by-committee type of thing, so we finally got that here and it's working out very well for us."

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers