When the Detroit Lions offense was flailing to muster up points last year, coach Dan Campbell decided to change course with then-offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. The offense was averaging just over 16 points per game through the first eight weeks of the season and had failed to score more than 19 points since their season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
Campbell took over play-calling duties but turned to tight ends coach Ben Johnson to help breathe life into the offense. The Lions offense turned a corner in the second half of the season as the team picked up three victories, averaging nearly 24 points per game down the home stretch.
Johnson was officially promoted to offensive coordinator in February and was given play-calling duties for the first time in his coaching career just before the season started. Detroit’s offense got off to a scorching hot start, putting up points in bunches through the first four weeks (35 points per game). Injuries have played a hand in bringing the offense back to Earth, but even with a shutout loss to the New England Patriots in Week 5, Detroit’s offense is ninth in points per game through 10 weeks.
Johnson has earned praise from players and Campbell himself for the success of Detroit’s offense, and while the big point totals at the start of the season got him some national attention, we’re getting closer to the end of the season and the start of coaching searches.
“Those who have worked with Johnson say he has one of the NFL’s sharpest minds,” says Pelissero after recent discussions with NFL executives, coaches and others close to the search process. “Johnson previously has coached quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends, and he has a good feel for the whole picture.”
He may have quite a bit of experience from working with different position groups on offense, but the big question looming for Johnson before he earns another promotion is whether or not one year as a coordinator is enough experience before becoming a head coach.
“That’s unknown. But his reputation figures to get him in the room sooner than later,” predicts Pelissero.
In the here and now, it certainly does seem like it’s not a matter of if, but when Johnson will get the opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL.