Lions notes: Assistant Ben Johnson nets praise for work he's done with passing game
Allen Park — As part of the midseason shuffling of duties that saw Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell take over offensive play-calling responsibilities, tight end coach Ben Johnson also earned an unofficial promotion, assisting more with the pass game throughout the week.
"I think a lot of what he’s done is bring ideas that he’s had in the past and things that he’s seen work to our offense, as well as (modifying) some of the stuff that we have had success with or some of the stuff that he saw that can use improvement," quarterback Jared Goff said. "A lot of that’s been ideas of his, concept-wise, but a lot of that’s just been his coaching, and the details that he’s instilled in our receivers and myself. ... He’s had a big impact on me obviously in our short time together."
A former walk-on quarterback at North Carolina, Johnson entered the NFL coaching ranks with the Miami Dolphins in 2012, joining Campbell, who started with that staff two years earlier.
Johnson spent eight seasons with the Dolphins, working with the quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends, prior to joining the Lions in 2019, where he's similarly seen his role develop and expand.
"I've been impressed with Ben from Day 1," Lions quarterback coach Mark Brunell said. "He has a lot of experience. He's been coaching in the NFL for 10 years. Still young — 35 years old — and he's been around a lot. I've learned a lot from Ben, and not just since the last couple weeks or whatever, but since the day I stepped foot on this facility. I've learned a lot from him as far as offensive football, passing game, coaching, and he's been around some good coaches. I'm fortunate that I get to be around him."
Brunell further praised Johnson's attention to detail and his ability to teach those details to the players.
"It's the depth of our drops, it's our footwork, it's how many yards are we getting on that curl route and a lot of things that go into a passing game that are very, very important," Brunell said. "He's very dialed in on every bit of our passing game and what it's supposed to look like. The exciting thing is just in the last few weeks, we've made a lot of progress there. I really believe we're only going to get better."
A Trojan comp
Lions rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is coming off his best game, catching 10 passes for 84 yards against the Minnesota Vikings, including the game-winner as time expired.
Even though St. Brown's production has been predictably inconsistent throughout his debut season, he's now pacing the team's corps in targets, receptions and yardage, while trailing only Kalif Raymond in offensive snaps.
Throughout the season, the fourth-round draft pick out of USC has impressed coaches with his maturity, advanced football IQ and versatility, something coach Dan Campbell said showed up throughout the scouting process.
"Amon-Ra, on tape, you can tell," Campbell said. "They moved him around quite a bit. They asked him to do a lot of jobs and he had a savviness about him. Whether he was taught or not, he understood the spots and zones. He understood how to beat man coverage. You could tell he was a smart football player. And so, that’s proven to be true.
"Look, we’ve put a lot on him," Campbell said. "Every week, I feel like we put more on him. Out of that receiver room, he’s probably asked to do more than all of those guys, just where he goes just in different spots, but also the details of what we ask him from the run game to the pass game.”
Teammate Josh Reynolds, who only arrived in Detroit a month ago, said he would have never known St. Brown was a rookie with the way he carries himself.
“Honestly, if I didn’t know he was a rookie, then I would’ve never guessed he was a rookie," Reynolds said. "I never actually told him to his face, but he’s like a little bulldog. You get him in everything. You mess around and line him up in the backfield and hand the ball off to him, he’ll make a play for you. I love his game and (we’ll) see what he’s going to do in the future."
Reynolds, who is in his fifth season, was asked if St. Brown's game was reminiscent of any other receivers he had played with during his time with the Los Angeles Rams or Tennessee Titans.
“It’s crazy because I keep telling people this," Reynolds said. "He reminds me a lot of Robert Woods. Just how they play and presence they bring to the field. It’s awesome to see.”
Like St. Brown, Woods also played at USC before he was selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills. Woods has spent the past five seasons with the Rams, overlapping with Reynolds from 2016-20.
The notably versatile Woods has averaged 89 receptions for 1,096 yards the past three seasons.
In addition to the flu keeping six players away from the facility, the Lions also listed outside linebacker Julian Okwara (ankle), linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin (shoulder) and running back D'Andre Swift (shoulder) as non-participants on the team's projected practice report.
Swift, the team's top offensive weapon, appears in jeopardy of missing his second consecutive game.
"All I can say is he’s improving," Campbell said. "That would be the best way to put it. There again, it was a walkthrough today, so he’s improved certainly from last week and it’d be hard for me to say one way or another what (his availability for Sunday) looks like right now.”
Tight end T.J. Hockenson (hand), outside linebacker Austin Bryant (shoulder), offensive tackle Matt Nelson (ankle), cornerback Bobby Price (shoulder) and offensive tackle Penei Sewell (illness/shoulder) were limited.
'Tis the season
As part of the franchise's annual "Season of Sharing" initiative, several players, including Swift and cornerback Amani Oruwariye, participated in the team's annual "Shop with a Lion" event Tuesday evening at Meijer in Detroit.
Working with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, players and cheerleaders were partnered with local youth, who were each provided a $200 gift card to use at the store.