Calvin Johnson: A star receiver with no diva qualities

Posted Dec. 07, 2011 @ 12:28 p.m.
Posted By Mike Wilkening

As Calvin Johnson's roommate for three years at Georgia Tech, Taylor Bennett knows things about the Lions' star receiver that others may not.

For instance, one of Johnson's favorite meals was, of all things, powdered mashed potatoes. Also, Johnson's beard clippings would usually find their way onto Bennett's toothbrush.

Those are ordinary things. And at his core, Johnson, to those who know him best, is an ordinary guy.

But throwing to Calvin Johnson the wide receiver? It is extraordinary.

Bennett knows this as only a quarterback can. His first two collegiate starts came while Johnson was still at Georgia Tech.

Bennett didn't waste any time looking for his roommate. On his first-ever play in 2005, Bennett threw a 42-yard TD pass to Johnson.

In Bennett's second career start, Johnson caught nine passes for 186 yards and two TDs from his friend  against West Virginia in the 2007 Toyota Gator Bowl.

In the bowl game, Bennett remembers making some throws he otherwise wouldn't have attempted, but a would-be gamble with another receiver becomes far less a roll of the dice with Johnson.

"I put it like this: When Calvin is covered, he's still open," Bennett said.

The 6-5, 236-pound Johnson instills that sort of confidence in quarterbacks.

Can you blame them?

Only 26, Johnson - famously dubbed "Megatron," a "Transformers" character, by Roy Williams - is in the prime of his career, an ultra-tough cover because of his size, speed, strength and leaping ability.

Through 12 games in 2011, Johnson has hauled in 69 passes for 1,092 yards and 12 touchdowns. It's the third time Johnson has caught a dozen TDs in his first five NFL seasons, with Hall of Famers Lance Alworth and Jerry Rice the only other players to accomplish the feat.

Johnson's breakout NFL season was in 2008, when he had 78 receptions for 1,331 yards and 12 TDs for a Detroit club that had little else to cherish after it failed to win a single game. After racking up 984 yards and five scores in '09, Johnson caught 77 passes for 1,120 yards and 12 TDs last season as the Lions started to show some genuine promise.

In a remarkable stretch at the beginning of this season, Johnson became the first player in NFL history to grab two TD catches in each of the first four games of the season - all Detroit wins. The Lions, who won their first five games, have slumped somewhat since, but they still are fighting for their first playoff berth since 1999.

The one-of-a-kind receiving threat

How can Johnson beat defenses?

"You cannot let him get behind you, first and foremost," said an NFL defensive assistant whose club played Johnson this season.

Ah, yes — Johnson's speed. His 40-time of 4.36 seconds coming out of college was blazing. And he hasn't lost a step. It shows up on vertical routes, and it shows on the shorter stuff, too. He can flat-out run away from defensive backs, as he did on a 57-yard TD catch against Atlanta in Week Seven, when he caught a short pass against zone coverage and took it to the house.

 

To read the rest of Mike Wilkening's feature on Calvin Johnson, purchase a copy of the current issue Pro Football Weekly online at PFWstore.com. In this issue, you'll also have access to a profile of Broncos rookie OLB Von Miller, who is in part responsible for Denver's success so far in 2011; our comprehensive fantasy football coverage; and our draft-related "Audibles" and "The Way We Hear It."