The Detroit Lions have featured one of the league’s most one-dimensional offenses over the past two years.
Ranking dead last in rushing in two of the past three seasons, the Lions made it a point of emphasis during the offseason to upgrade the ground game.
Not only did Detroit sign well-traveled running back LeGarrette Blount in free agency, they traded up in the second round of this year’s draft to select Kerryon Johnson of Auburn.
Johnson finally got a chance to show the Lions what he could do in the team’s preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders on Friday and opened some eyes by rushing for a team-high 34 yards on seven carries.
The numbers would have been a lot more impressive, but Johnson also had a 57-yard run called back due to a penalty.
“Oh man,” Lions tight end Hakeem Valles told the Detroit Free Press. “That was awesome. That was awesome. Just to see him get off, even that one play that was a penalty, it’s like, ‘Whoa.’ I’ve seen that highlight before.'”
Johnson put up huge numbers at Auburn last year, leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing with 1,391 yards and scoring 18 touchdowns despite missing two games.
The 5-foot-11, 213-pounder is being counted on to bolster a rushing attack that averaged a paltry 76.3 yards last season — by far the worst in the NFL.
Johnson also displayed his versatility by adding four receptions for 33 yards, including a 19-yard gain on a screen pass.
“It just re-ensures me that it’s football at the end of the day,” Johnson told reporters. “It’s a different level. Of course, people are better. Of course, it’s the NFL. But at the end of the day, it’s a game. It comes down to running, tackling and blocking, and it’s the same old game it always has been, the same old game it’s going to keep being.”
Detroit first-year coach Matt Patricia, in comments reminiscent of his former boss with the New England Patriots, was not about to anoint Johnson as the Second Coming just yet.
“We’ve seen a lot from Kerryon through the course of camp, and he certainly had some good plays out there,” Patricia said. “I think there was a couple plays that we still left out on the field that we got to do better on, but we just keep trying to improve him, the overall understanding of what we’re trying to do offensively.”
Blount, who led the NFL with 18 rushing TDs in 2016 before winning a Super Bowl with Philadelphia last season, got the start Friday and finished with 21 yards on five carries. Former second-round pick Ameer Abdullah added 16 yards and a score on four rushes.