Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but quarterback Matthew Stafford said Tuesday that the Detroit Lions will be a tougher team to defend without Calvin Johnson.
“I think we’re going to do it a little bit differently than we have in the past,” Stafford said in an interview on SiriusXM NFL radio. “We used to feature Calvin, and everybody kind of got theirs after that. I think it’s going to be tougher for defenses, in a certain way, that they don’t know who we’re going to. There’s no guy to key in on. We’re probably just going to spread the ball around a bunch, and a bunch of guys will get a ton of catches, and we’ll be all right.”
Johnson retired in March after nine seasons as one of the most dominant receivers in NFL history. He holds Lions records for receptions (731), yards (11,619) and receiving touchdowns (83), but the team made just two playoff appearances and didn’t win a postseason game during his time in Detroit.
Stafford, who has played all seven of his NFL seasons with Johnson by his side, spent the spring getting used to a new-look receiving corps led by Golden Tate and Marvin Jones.
Tate actually led the Lions in receptions each of the last two years, and Jones signed this offseason as a free agent after four years with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Tight end Eric Ebron and running back Theo Riddick also are expected to play big roles in the passing game, and TJ Jones and Jeremy Kerley are competing for the No. 3 receiver job. But none of those weapons strikes fear in opponents the way Johnson did.
The Lions ranked just 18th in the NFL in points per game (22.4) last season but were one of the top-scoring teams in the league at the peak of Johnson’s career.
“Calvin was a once-in-a-lifetime type player, a great talent, a great teammate,” Stafford said on Sirius. “But at the same time, the guys that we have are pros, they’re good players. Golden’s had a great offseason. I just got the chance to start working with Marvin, and he’s a heck of a receiver. I’ve got to get as much time under my belt with him as I possibly can before the season starts, which we’ll do, and go from there.”
Stafford said this month that he once again plans to spend a few days with Lions receivers during the team’s six-week down period before the start of training camp, but he declined to reveal specifics.
In years past, Stafford has brought receivers to the Atlanta area, where he and Johnson spent much of their off-season.
“Probably figure out a time and a place, not tell you guys, and do my thing,” Stafford said.
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