Detroit Lions president says team wants to re-connect with Calvin Johnson

Also, updates on bringing draft to Detroit and ‘Hard Knocks’

DETROIT — One thing on Rod Wood’s to-do list is to get Calvin Johnson back in the fold — not on the field — but to have the former wide receiver as a part of the organization like Barry Sanders.

The Detroit Lions president spoke at the Taste of the Lions, an annual charity event, on Wednesday night at Ford Field.  

“I had it on my agenda today to talk internally about some things  to approach (Johnson) about getting back and involved,’’ Wood said. “It’s on the agenda to reach out to him. We have Barry (Sanders) coming in this week for a couple of events. I want to kind of try and find a way to do something similar with what we’re doing with Barry, if Calvin would be interested.’’

Johnson retired unexpectedly in March 2016 after nine seasons with the Lions.

“It’s a very high priority. I would expect in a couple years he’ll be considered for the Hall of Fame and I really want to have a relationship at that point that’s productive for both sides,’’ Wood said. “We could be there celebrating with him and find ways to have him here to celebrate as well.’’

Also on Wood’s agenda is bringing an NFL draft to Detroit.

The draft held in Nashville a few weeks ago seemed to be a success from all angles.

“I wasn’t down there obviously, but we had people down there. I saw it on TV. I think they did a great job,’’ Wood said. “Obviously they have a special area there with Broadway and the bars and the restaurants. I think what we learned is we need to do something, if we do it here, that’s iconically Detroit. We have a few ideas of how we may do that. We’re in the running for a couple years from now to bring the draft here.’’

His thoughts would be to showcase all of downtown Detroit, using multiple venues. He’s uncertain about the timeline but thinks the 2021 draft location could be announced next spring.

One more thing:  Wood said no word yet on whether the Lions will be featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this preseason. He expects a decision to be announced soon.

Since the Lions have missed the playoffs for two straight years, they are one of the teams eligible for the behind-the-scenes, NFL reality show.

“So far I’ve not heard anything. I don’t know if that means we’re under consideration and no one has told us or it’s such a top secret thing they didn’t want to leak it out,’’ Wood said.

The tight-lipped organization would just as soon pass, but they won’t have a choice.

“The consequences of ending the season the way we did makes us eligible. We’ll deal with the consequences,’’ Wood said. “I’d much rather be here a year from now saying we’re not eligible.’’

The Taste of the Lions has become a major charity fund-raiser for the team.

“During the offseason it’s one of the big things we do to get the fans close to the players and the coaches,’’ Wood said. “When you’re in the building every day you kind of get immune to how special this is for a fan to get a chance to talk to one of our players or get a picture with coach, or Mrs. Ford is downstairs – get a picture with her. It’s a great opportunity to get close to the fans, raise some money for charity and showcase some of the great restaurants around town.’’

Thirty years ago today the Detroit Lions drafted Barry Sanders third overall

The Packers passed in favor of Tony Mandarich

Thirty years ago today the Detroit Lions drafted running back Barry Sanders.

No-brainer, you ask?

Well, yes. On April 23,1989, by the time the Oklahoma State running back dropped to the Lions with the third overall pick it was an easy decision for GM Chuck Schmidt.

Sanders, the 1988 Heisman Trophy winner, was coming off a remarkable college season. He backed up Thurman Thomas his first two seasons and then in his junior year (1988) he led the nation averaging 7.6 yards per carry and more than 200 yards per game and more than 300 yards in four games. In total he rushed for 2,850 yards and 42 touchdowns in a dozen games that season. He carried the ball 344 times (unbelievable) and still returned kicks and punts.

Sanders was a marvel, obviously.

When he joined the Lions, he acclimated to the NFL immediately.

He missed training camp as a rookie due to contract issues so he didn’t start the regular season opener. He stepped on the field in the third quarter for the first time and carried nine times for 71 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and a touchdown in a 16-13 loss to Phoenix. This was after no training camp and no preseason games. He finished the season with 1,470 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Speaking of no-brainers, he was named NFL rookie of the year.

Through 10 seasons with the Lions, Sanders averaged more than 1,500 rushing yards per season and 99.8 rushing yards per game. In 1997, he became the third player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season and was named the NFL Most Valuable Player.

If you never saw him, go to YouTube and watch his highlights. It’s a treat. There’s a reason he was a 10-time Pro Bowler and two-time NFL offensive player of the year.

So while the Lions have historically had a few bad first-round picks — Charles Rogers (2003) and Reggie Rogers (1987) come to mind — when it came to Sanders they nailed it. Not so much for the Green Bay Packers.

In that 1989 draft, Troy Aikman was the first overall pick by the Dallas Cowboys.

Then the Packers drafted offensive lineman Tony Mandarich. (Michigan State) who was a bust with a capital B. History proved they were idiots for skipping over Sanders.

Four of the top five 1989 picks became Hall of Famers — Sanders, Aikman, Derrick Thomas (Kansas City) and Deion Sanders (Atlanta Falcons).

 

(Read more about Barry Sanders in one of my books — “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” or “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.” Both are available on Amazon.com and at Detroit-area Barnes & Nobles.)

Lions Kerryon Johnson on meeting Barry Sanders, gaining 101 yards and more

Rookie averages 5.6 yards per carry

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.’’