ALLEN PARK — For a rookie just three games into the season, running back Kerryon Johnson has quickly become a fan favorite.
Diehard Lions fans have been looking, hoping, praying for a running back to believe in for years.
Of course, Barry Sanders set the gold standard. He averaged 99.8 yards per game during his 10-year career with the Lions that ended in 1998.
(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)
Johnson is not being compared to the Hall of Famer. That is just way too much to put on the rookie’s shoulders. His talent and fearlessness is impressive so far, let’s leave it at that.
And, of course, Johnson broke the nearly 5-year-old streak of not having a 100-yard rusher in a game with his 101-yard effort in the win over the Patriots on Sunday. His longest run was 15 yards, he did it the old-fashioned way by just grinding the yards out, averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
Five thoughts from Johnson on Wednesday:
1. As it happens, Johnson is big fan of Barry Sanders. And, yes, he has met him. He walked up to Sanders and introduced himself a month ago. “He’s a good dude. I think people would agree, very quiet, soft-spoken. He’s just talking about ‘Hey this is our time to get it going’ and that’s what we’re trying to do,’’ Johnson said. “He was my favorite running back growing up. Barry is one of those where you question if he even needed an O-line at times. I used to try to move like him but my body doesn’t move like that.
“I used to watch his highlights a lot of time, my dad really enjoyed watching him play. It was crazy meeting him you’re like this is really the guy who did this, know what I’m saying? It’s impressive,’’ Johnson said.
2. Johnson credits his teammates with helping him pick up the NFL game so far. LeGarrette Blount is at the top of the list. “LG is very funny, but I think the best thing he’s taught me, he’s played nine years, three Super Bowl rings. He’s taught me how the game works, how to be a good running back in this league,’’ Johnson said. “There’s a lot of things you can do in college that you can’t do in the NFL, that’s on the field and off the field — ` taking care of your body, learning the playbook. … He’s taught me a lot. I don’t know if I’d be so advanced right now or at the point right now without him or Theo (Riddick) or anyone else in the (running back) room.’’
3. Johnson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. After his 101-yard game, fans are crying to let him have more touches. The rookie is not clamoring for more work. “This game is too physical for one back. The way I see it, I think over 16-17 weeks, that’s how I see it. Maybe for two weeks you can do it, four or five, but after a while it will catch up,’’ Johnson said. “Maybe next year it will catch up. Longevity is what we’re looking for, we’re trying to win games over the whole season. The way you do that is by having multiple guys take carries, multiple guys having great games, that’s just how you do it.’’
4. It’s no accident that he often falls forward when he is tackled. “In my opinion falling forward is the safest way to get tackled. If you’re standing up or going backward, people can land on you and no one wants that,’’ Johnson said. “If you’re standing straight up, people can swipe your ankles or something, bodies are flying, bodies on the ground, In my opinion, falling forward, you get a good body lean, it’s easier to take the hits that way and, as you know, you’re gaining more yards at the end.’’
5. He was not concentrating on getting to the 100-yard mark on Sunday, but appreciated that the fans were keeping track. “It was crazy excitement, it was unbelievable,’’ Johnson said. “It’s nice to give them that, they come to every game, they come and cheer their hearts out.’’