Upbringing toughened up Detroit Lions’ new running back Kerryon Johnson
By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK — Kerryon Johnson was just a kid when his older siblings hit him with elbows while playing hoops.
And his parents, both of whom played college basketball, did not swoop in to save their young son from the physical games.
Sure, playing at Auburn and in the SEC did a lot to get the Detroit Lions’ rookie running back ready for the NFL.
Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, though as the youngest of four athletic children did a lot to develop him, too.
“My parents let it go because they knew I was being prepared for moments like this,” Johnson said Wednesday after a joint practice with the New York Giants.
“When I look back at those times, I’m grateful. It taught me to be competitive and how to work hard and never give up.
“I look back on those days and I’m grateful.”
Detroit, meanwhile, is thankful it drafted Johnson in the second round.
He had a run and a reception for 30-plus yards in his professional debut, albeit it a preseason game last week against the Oakland Raiders.
While the Lions were encouraged by Johnson’s flashes of promise, and have been pleased by how well he has practiced, they are quick to pump the breaks to temper the enthusiasm about him.
“I was excited to see him have a couple big plays and show off some of his natural ability,” Detroit coach Matt Patricia said. “But from an overall standpoint, we’ve a long way to go there.”
Detroit’s running game can’t get much worse.
Under former coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions ranked last in rushing offense in 2017 for the second time in three years.
Johnson won’t be expected to fix the lingering problem alone.
Detroit selected Frank Ragnow 20th overall in the draft, counting on him to play alongside four returning starters to bolster the offensive line.
Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount was signed early in free agency to likely lead a group that also includes Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah.
“I owe my early success to (my teammates),” Johnson said. “They’ve helped me to develop a routine and have encouraged me to stick to it to keep my mind focused on the next day.
“This is a long season. It feels like we’ve already played three games, but we’ve only played one preseason game.”
His brother, Kerron, beat out future NBA star DeMarcus Cousins for Mr. Basketball in Alabama and went on to play in Europe. His sister, Nyla, played basketball at Faulkner University and another sister, Kolanda, used her athletic skills to dance.
NOTES: Giants rookie RB Saquon Barkley was held out of practice for a second straight day with a strained left hamstring. … The Lions lined up Graham Glasgow at guard a day after leaving practice with a left leg injury, and rookie Frank Ragnow was moved to center.