Every team in the NFL has a wide receiver that is dangerous and is counted on to make plays week in and week out. But, few teams have a player who is so good that he is known as much for his nickname as he his given name.
Detroit's Calvin Johnson is one of those players. While he has made a name for himself throughout the NFL, Johnson is probably as well known for his nickname – Megatron of The Transformers franchise.
There is little questioning his dominance as the pre-eminent wide receiver in the NFL. In 2012, he caught 122 passes for 1,964 yards and had 11 games of more than 100 receiving yards, including six games with 140 or more and an eight-game stretch of consecutive 100-yard efforts.
He is a player who demands special attention and much of the job of taking him off the line of scrimmage is going to fall on cornerbacks Chris Cook and Xavier Rhodes. Cook is no stranger to Johnson. In their first meeting of last season, Cook was assigned primarily to cover Johnson and had a solid game – Johnson caught just five passes for 53 yards, miniscule by Megatron standards. In their second meeting with Cook on the injured reserve list, Johnson caught 12 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown.
Cook sees the battle with Johnson as one of the stiffest challenges he will face all season, but he looks forward to the challenge of facing the best and using that as a measuring stick to where Cook is at in his own career.
"It's a division game, so that makes it even more exciting because I get to play against one of the most explosive receivers to ever play the game in Calvin Johnson," Cook said. "I always look forward to that. He's a guy that you want to slow down at the line because he makes a lot of big plays going down the field and playing the ball in the air. Slowing him down at the line is one of the key things that a lot of teams do against him. Either it works or it doesn't work. He's going to make his plays. You try to limit him in as many ways as you can."
While Cook has dealt with Megatron before, it will be the first time for Rhodes – who has only seen Johnson on television and has heard the myth. While he may have a few butterflies in his stomach when the game starts, they could turn into bats when he gets his first up-close-and-personal look at Johnson.
"It's going to be a good challenge," Rhodes said. "As you can see, Calvin is one of the best receivers out there. Right now, we're game planning for him and getting ready for him. I haven't seen him up close yet, but, from what I've seen and heard about, he's going (to be a challenge). I've played against tall receivers before, but how they describe him, I've never played against someone like him."
What makes Johnson such a freak of nature is that he stands 6-5, weighs 237 and has sprinter's speed. There are receivers that have one of those attributes. Even some that have two. But to have the complete package is a rarity and why Cook is convinced he is likely to be the first line of defense at slowing down Megatron for most of the game.
"They haven't told me that yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happens," Cook said. "I accept that challenge. I look forward to playing him all the time because he brings out the best in me with him being the best receiver in the game today. He's going to use his body. I don't know why he wouldn't, being 240 or however much he weighs. He makes me stay on my keys and play my technique the way I should play."
One of the reasons the Vikings traded back into the first round of April's draft to get Rhodes was because the team plays in a division that has Johnson and Chicago's Brandon Marshall – another big, physical receiver – and they need to make sure they have big, strong corners to take them on. But, for Rhodes, seeing both Megatron and Marshall in his first two NFL games will be an apprenticeship by fire.
"I look at it as welcome to the NFL," Rhodes said. "Every game is going to be like that for me. I'm a rookie and they're going to target me no matter what – if it's Calvin or Brandon or whoever. I know I'm going to bring my ‘A' game every game, because I'm a rookie and they're going try to work on me every game."
Cook and Johnson have a friendly rivalry that dates back to when Cook was an up-and-coming corner at Virginia and Johnson was a dominant wide receiver at Georgia Tech. That rivalry has spilled over to the NFL and they have formed a mutual respect for one another in the process.
"Me and him have been playing each other since college – I played him my freshman year," Cook said. "We have a relationship out there. He's my friend and we're just playing against each other. There's no trash talking or nothing like that. We just go out and play the game like it's supposed to be played."
Johnson's respect for Cook comes in that he isn't that accustomed to playing against corners that can muscle him at the line in one-on-one situations, which makes their annual matchups something that takes Johnson out of his own comfort zone.
"Chris is one of the big corners – a big, lanky corner," Johnson said. "He can run. He can play the ball a little bit. It's always a challenge going against somebody that is your size out there. It's even more of a challenge, but it's way more competition."
As the old saying goes, you can't expect to shut down Megatron, you can merely hope to contain him. That is Cook's goal. He knows how much Matthew Stafford depends on his hookups with his Pro Bowl wide receiver and it will be his job to make sure that Johnson isn't the storyline of Sunday's game.
"I have to be at my best and everyone is expecting the best out of me," Cook said. "He's going to get his touches. Even if he's double-teamed or triple-teamed, he's still going to get the ball, because they believe in his ability to make plays."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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