Lions WR Johnson is a student, and superstar, of the game
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -- Calvin Johnson's combination of size, speed, strength and soft hands make him one of the NFL's top receivers.
His note-taking skills seem to help, too.
Before each practice, the Detroit Lions star is given paper detailing plays the team is going to work on that day. He makes notations of his own, highlighting, circling and underlining key words along the way.
"I've always done it," Johnson said simply.
Johnson, who is as humble off the field as he is spectacular on it, rarely sounds as if he is impressed by anything he does. His teammates, though, rave about him as a man and as the player known as Megatron.
"He's one of the quietest guys I've been around and he works as hard if not harder than anyone else," said receiver Lance Moore, a 10-year NFL veteran in his first season with the Lions. "He's a student of the game even though he's the best in the game. You should see him take notes. We get scripts of what we're going to work on and he takes notes like no one I've ever seen. He sits next to me and every now and again, I'll ask to see what he's writing."
Corey Fuller did that, too, last year during his rookie season.
"One time on the sly I said, 'Let me see your script,'" Fuller recalled. "He showed his script and I saw how he had highlighted, underlined or circled his route or the coverage. He would also write on the side what route he would run if he saw a particular coverage."
Against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving, the Lions saw Johnson in one-on-one coverage extensively.
"That's all they did," said Matthew Stafford, who matched a career high with five touchdown passes in the 45-14 rout.
Johnson caught three TDs - matching a career high he set in 2010 - and each one was against a single defensive back to help Detroit win its third straight game.
Detroit (4-7) is not expecting the Green Bay Packers (7-4) to attempt to defend Johnson with only one defensive back very often Thursday night.
"They mix it up quite a bit," Johnson said.
The Eagles did not. They left one cornerback on Johnson, putting a safety too far toward the middle of the field to help such as when Stafford threw him a 25-yard TD pass late in the first half.
"When I heard the play call and I saw the coverage, I lit up," Johnson recalled. "I knew where it was going."
Everyone knew Johnson would probably get the ball in the third quarter when Philadelphia attempted to cover him with one player near the end zone. Johnson twisted to catch a back-shoulder throw for a short TD.
Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is glad he doesn't have to worry about coming up with schemes to slow down Johnson anymore. Austin did in the past as a Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator and Arizona Cardinals defensive backs coach.
"When we played against Calvin, there was always somebody on him and somebody near him," said Austin, describing how most teams attempt to defend Johnson. "We tried to limit the time he would be by himself. That was our whole game plan because we know just facing him that he was a game-wrecker."
Johnson has 67 receptions for 921 yards and six TDs this year. Perhaps against the Packers, he will pass 1,000 yards receiving for a sixth straight season and the seventh time in his nine-year career. Brandon Marshall and Roddy White are the NFL's active players who have had at least 1,000 yards receiving in at least six straight seasons, according to STATS, and seven players in league history have surpassed the 1,000-yard receiving mark at least seven times in their first nine years.
Johnson reached the 11,000-yard receiving mark in his career earlier this season in his 127th game, the quickest a player has reached that total in NFL history.
"We often remind the guys on this team that they have an opportunity to be with a very rare individual in Calvin Johnson," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. "Obviously, the numbers in terms of what he's been able to accomplish on the field speak for himself. But he's an even better person. He'll be a Hall of Fame player. He's a Hall of Fame person long before that."
NOTES: Lions rookie CB Alex Carter, a third-round pick, was put on season-ending injured reserve with an ankle injury. ... Moore (ankle) and K Matt Prater (illness) did not practice Monday. ... Johnson (ankle), S Glover Quin (ankle) and WR Golden Tate (calf) were among the players limited in practice. ... OG Larry Warford (concussion) was cleared to participate in the entire practice.
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