With Williams out, it's CJ's time to shine

With an injury keeping veteran receiver Roy Williams out of Sunday's contest against the Dallas Cowboys, the limelight will be shifted to Williams' understudy: rookie Calvin Johnson.

With an injury keeping veteran receiver Roy Williams out of Sunday's contest against the Dallas Cowboys, the limelight will be shifted to Williams' understudy: rookie Calvin Johnson.

Nicknamed 'Megatron' by Williams to begin the year, Johnson's inaugural campaign hasn't necessarily registered blockbuster numbers. The No. 2 overall pick from April's draft has tallied just 32 receptions for 502 yards, third among rookie receivers this year.

While those numbers have been hampered by a back injury and a loaded Detroit receiving core, Johnson's coming out party can't come soon enough for a Lions team looking to jump back into the playoff race. According to fellow wideout Mike Furrey, it's only a mater of time.

"The game is probably still a little bit fast for him now, where (Shaun MacDonald) and I can go out there and the game is pretty slow," Furrey said. "It's almost like slow motion. You know where things are. When he gets to that point -- and hopefully he will over these next couple weeks -- it's going to be something to watch."

Johnson had his best game as a pro during a Thanksgiving Day loss to Green Bay. He nabbed a season-best seven catches and a touchdown. But his performance was marred by a handful of dropped passes, and is almost an after-thought following his one-catch game against Minnesota this past weekend.

The back injury suffered against Philadelphia won't completely heal until the off-season, but it also hasn't detracted considerably from Johnson's speed or range of physical abilities.

Against Dallas, the Lions will keep Johnson in his familiar 'Z' position, in which he will man one side of the field, while MacDonald replaces Williams on the opposite. That will allow Furrey to slide back into the more comfortable slot position (where he recorded 98 catches in 2006), and possibly open Johnson to more downfield opportunities.

The potential has Furrey excited.

"Mac knows what he's doing," Furrey said. "I'm in the slot. Calvin's going to be out there with us. He'll be with either one of us on each side of the field, so he'll be able to know what's going on for sure if he has any questions. I'm thinking hopefully this will be our breakout game."

While Johnson is still learning Detroit's offense (considered one of the more complicated systems for a rookie to adapt to), the team's coaching staff has been pleased with his progress in practice.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is still of the belief that Johnson will, at some point, become one of the league's greatest receivers.

Many in the media, including fans on message boards, have questioned Johnson's abilities -- wondering aloud if the team should have drafted Minnesota's rookie sensation Adrian Peterson, and whether or not GM Matt Millen made another first round snafu. But those impatient pleas are simply residue from botched picks Mike Williams and Charles Rogers -- Johnson's season totals, while not stunning, has surpassed what either of those receivers managed in their brief Detroit tenures.

Johnson has certainly demonstrated sparks early in his Lions career, but the franchise needs him to live up to his nickname.

"That's why Calvin should have been here the first day of training camp," joked Furrey, who was speaking in regards to Johnson's training camp holdout.


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