ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ty Johnson heard the news about his teammate Kerryon Johnson and knew from almost the get-go it would be different. He first made sure the Detroit Lions' starting running back was OK after having knee surgery Tuesday.
Then he realized that, yes, he might be in for more work himself.
“Like if I’m doing treatment now, I’ll watch film now and now I got to amp it up to another level, just because, you know, I don’t want to be the guy to go in there and then I’m messing up,” Ty Johnson said. “So it’s like a preparation-level type thing and a mental level, just preparing myself like that.”
He’d studied hard before. But what Johnson is prepping himself for is to likely be part of a committee of running backs to replace Kerryon Johnson. He won’t see all the work himself -- J.D. McKissic, at the least, will continue his role as a pass-catching specialist and receiver out of the backfield. Tra Carson, whom the Lions signed from Green Bay earlier this month, might see some action, too.
But the man to watch for the Lions is Ty Johnson, the rookie sixth-round pick from Maryland who showed flashes of being an inside-outside back both in his time with the Terrapins and then during the preseason, when he saw extensive work.
His 5-foot-10, 210-pound frame is built to withstand some interior runs, but he made the team in part because of his playmaking ability when he gets into the open field. That could make him a dangerous addition for Detroit as he receives more carries.
It kind of fits with how he sees himself, too. He showed flashes of versatility against the Minnesota Vikings when he gained 29 yards on 10 carries and also caught four passes for 28 yards. Those are not big numbers, and his season numbers of 23 carries for 83 yards aren't large, either, but he also wasn’t as big a part of the down-to-down game plan as he might be now.
The Lions could take advantage of his style.
“I guess I’m really a speed guy at heart, but at the end of the day, as you saw in the game, I was just kind of right between the tackles getting dirty yards and everything,” Johnson said. “I’m a speed back first, but if you need a dirty 4 [yards], a dirty 3, I can do that. Mostly kind of whatever is called for.”
He was still mildly annoyed, three days later, about a run he didn’t finish. One he believed he could have scored on -- a 4-yard run inside the red zone where he was stopped on the 3-yard line after Everson Griffen jumped on his back to stop him.
If only he had kept driving his feet, Johnson thought. He might have scored his first real NFL touchdown. The Lions ended up scoring that drive, but it told him how different the NFL was -- something he was already figuring out even in limited work.
The speed is faster. The guys are bigger. The holes are only open for a split second. It’s something he’s going to have to adjust to more quickly now. The extra film study will help. So will the live reps he received against the Vikings and the ones he’ll see Sunday against the New York Giants as the Lions try to move on without Kerryon Johnson into a situation they weren’t expecting.
But they have no choice.
“We have a good feel for J.C. 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,” Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. “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.”