By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Calvin Johnson is better.
Sure, the Detroit Lions wide receiver nicknamed “Megatron” is better than anyone else. What might be more surprising is that he is also purported to be better than last year’s version of him.
Given the fact that in 2012 Johnson recorded 1,964 receiving yards in 2012, improvement from him is hard to fathom.
Fellow wide receiver Nate Burleson has to work hard to convince people that, as good as Johnson is, he simply works harder and gets better every year.
“A lot of people don’t believe me, but I have to sit them down and explain to them just how good he is and how much better he’s gotten,” Burleson said. “I don’t know how to explain it. He just works – he works as if he doesn’t have a dollar to his name and he’s trying to make the team.”
Burleson glanced over toward Johnson’s locker and paused for a moment to find the right words.
“Not to get all emotional, but it’s inspirational,” Burleson said. “For a guy who’s not a diva, who doesn’t care about the limelight, doesn’t care about the praise, doesn’t care about the glory. He just wants to go out there and set the standard higher and higher each day, and each day he proves why he’s the best in the world.”
Through his first six NFL seasons, Johnson amassed 7,836 yards. Hall of Fame receiver and all-time receiving yards record holder Jerry Rice recorded 7,866 in his first six seasons. No other receiver has come close to Rice’s 22,895 career receiving yards. In fact, even the closest fall short by nearly 7,000.
Johnson is still in the early stages of his career, but it is not totally unrealistic that, if surpassing Rice’s record is impossible, which it may well be, Johnson could approach it as well as anyone else ever has.
Yet, as Burleson and others often say, Johnson still works like he is not guaranteed a spot. That kind of attitude sets an unassailable example for his teammates.
“It’s great to be on the team with a guy like that because you show up for work, you can’t come with your B-game [because] Calvin’s always going to be on his A-game,” Burleson said. “It’s great motivation for everybody that’s following suit.”
Johnson is known more for leading by example than by leading vocally, but he said he talks to his teammates plenty. In addition to those one-on-one conversations, he has no trouble getting the attention when he wants a little larger audience.
“He’ll speak up sometimes, and when he does speak – because he doesn’t speak too much – when he does and on a serious note, we all listen,” receiver Ryan Broyles said.
Burleson found it difficult to describe what exactly Johnson is doing better, but “Megatron” himself explained one area he has been working on – seeing the field more like quarterback Matthew Stafford.
That greater vision, the ability to see how plays develop, comes with time on the field but also through film study, which Johnson and Stafford do together.
“You get a lot from watching film, being able to see the spaces,” Johnson said. “It’s tougher to see the spaces while you’re running compared to seeing them on the field, but just from that experience, you’re able to develop that.”
Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the offensive understanding between Stafford and Johnson has been in the works for awhile now, particularly going back to the 2011 season, when Detroit won 10 games.
“Every year that they play together that becomes a little bit more and more,” Schwartz said. “It’s easy for those guys to say, ‘Hey, remember what happened against Dallas three years ago? If that happens again, let’s do this.’ The only way that happens is from experience.
“Every bit of experience they get, whether it’s a training camp practice, whether it’s a preseason game, a regular season game, whatever it is, that’s just one more sort of thing that they’ve accomplished or situation they’ve been through together,” Schwartz continued. “It’ll pay off.”