ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Matthew Stafford dropped back and sailed a spiral through the air, over his intended target and onto the ground.
The Detroit Lions gave their first glimpse of what life is like on the field without Calvin Johnson on Thursday, when the media had access to an offseason training activity for the first time this year.
It didn’t look good without Johnson on the field, leaving a relatively lackluster lot of receivers in Honolulu blue and silver.
“You can’t be fooled by what you see out here in shorts,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “There’s been several examples of that. Guys that may not look as good in shorts, but look outstanding with pads on.”
Stafford’s top options seemed to be a pair of newcomers, Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley, and TJ Jones. Golden Tate was absent from the voluntary workout, and Caldwell said he wasn’t hurt.
“We know where he is,” Caldwell said. “We know his situation. He’s not missing in action or anything.”
Johnson is long gone, displaying how much he is enjoying retirement with posts on social media showing him in boats from coast to coast. He left a huge void in the Motor City when he chose to walk away from the game at the age of 30.
How long did it take for Stafford to get over losing the 6-foot-5 target on the field and friend off it?
“Apparently, a lot quicker than you guys,” he said to reporters.
Marvin Jones, meanwhile, also said he’s getting tired of hearing questions about joining a receiving corps that is expected to take a hit without the spectacular player known as Megatron.
“We still are a strength,” Jones said. “You see the players we have.”
Marvin Jones signed a five-year deal with the Lions just days after Johnson retired and likely will become their No. 2 option in the passing game, lining up on the opposite side of Tate. Jones set career highs with 65 receptions and 816 yards receiving last season with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“People have seen me play,” he said. “That’s why I’m here, because I did what I did.”
Detroit signed Kerley to add depth at the position and perhaps to limit or eliminate Tate’s role as a punt returner. Kerley had 182 receptions for 2,225 yards and nine touchdowns with the New York Jets over five seasons, leading them in punt returns each year. He had career highs with 56 catches and 827 yards receiving in 2012.
TJ Jones emerged as a solid receiver late in 2015 when Stafford and the Lions were surging after an awful start. Johnson, of course, played a big role in helping the Lions win six of their last eight games last season. TJ Jones said he wished Johnson was still on the team, but acknowledged there’s an opportunity for him and the rest of the players at his position to take advantage of more chances to make plays.
“We know with him gone, there’s 100 balls to be spread out,” he said.