Johnson's rookie season stymied by back

Lions' rookie Calvin Johnson has been hampered by an injured back. More news and notes inside.

The day wide receiver Calvin Johnson was taken second overall in the NFL draft, he said his goal was to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. But he has only 21 catches for 357 yards and two touchdowns, plus three carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. He makes big plays when he gets the ball, but he doesn't get the ball that much.

Some in Detroit have even questioned whether the Lions should have taken running back Adrian Peterson.

Johnson's back has been a big problem. Since he fell awkwardly making a spectacular catch Sept. 23 at Philadelphia, he has missed only one game. But he has missed a lot of time in practice and within games. On the Lions' first offensive play Sunday at Arizona, Johnson fell awkwardly trying to make a catch in the end zone. He aggravated his back again.

"I told him yesterday, 'You know how to fix that, Calvin?'" offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "He said, 'How?' I said, 'Don't fall on your back.' He didn't think it was funny."

When he has practiced and played, Johnson often has been limited. Martz hasn't completely integrated him into the game plan, for fear he would lose him.

"We're going to be real careful with him in how much we ask him to do during the week because he just needs to kind of rest that thing a little bit," Martz said. "But he still needs the reps, so it's kind of a Catch 22.

"He's on the mend. I think he feels better this week than he did last week, even with that injury. So we'll just kind of see where he is here. That's why he's had a little bit of a limited role. If he's really healthy, then obviously we pick up some of the slack there and do a little bit more with him. But the first play of the game...

"Like I said last week, you don't know when you're going to have him and when you're not. If he goes out the first play of the game, then all that stuff goes out the window that you had for him. So you kind of have to be careful."

Martz praised Johnson's toughness, saying most players wouldn't play with what he has, but said Johnson sometimes made mistakes because the injury distracted him.

"He just doesn't have the juice and the acceleration he normally has," Martz said.

Johnson hadn't had much to say on the subject. Coming off the field after practice Thursday, he didn't stop walking as a group of reporters followed asking questions.

"You can't do much without your back," he said.

With that, he was out of sight, perhaps headed to the training room.

Individual Player Notes

  • DE Dewayne White did not practice again Thursday, and defensive coordinator Joe Barry did not sound optimistic he would be ready to play Sunday against the Giants.
  • CB Fernando Bryant (foot) practiced fully Thursday, an indication he might be ready to play Sunday.
  • RB Kevin Jones said he would have been able to play Thursday despite his sore foot, a good sign looking ahead to the Thanksgiving Day game against Green Bay.
  • QB Jon Kitna (back) practiced fully Thursday and will be ready for Sunday.
  • OL Jonathan Scott (hand) is shooting for the Thanksgiving Day game.

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