It’s safe to say that Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has won over the locker room before his first game at his new position. Johnson was given an unofficial promotion from tight ends coach to pass game coordinator midway through last season, and he was certainly part of the reason Detroit’s offense got a shot in the arm down the stretch. As a result, when the Lions parted ways with Anthony Lynn at the end of the year, Johnson was the natural fill-in at offensive coordinator.
Now that he’s in the captain’s seat of the offense, players have been fawning over Johnson and clearly have high expectations for him and the offense.
Here’s Lions receiver Kalif Raymond from back in March:
“It’s a great mind, so excited, already know what he can do, but i’m so excited to work with him and see what he can do more of, because he is a great coach. So, excited man. That’s a great mind right there.”
And here’s receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown last month:
“I love him. I think he’s one of the better coaches I’ve ever been around, and I’m super excited for him to be the offensive coordinator.”
That was before the Lions took the field for organized team activities and minicamp. Now that the Lions’ offseason program is nearly done and the offense is well into its install, players are starting to truly see what Johnson is capable of, and it’s fair to say they’re even more excited than they were when Johnson officially got the promotion.
“I just think Ben’s brilliant, man,” center Frank Ragnow said. “I can’t say enough about Ben Johnson. I think he’s an incredible head coach and the way he’s communicated (the offense) to us, simplified it to us, but yet, (it’s) still complicated to who we’re playing, I think it’s going to be very advantageous.”
Yes, that’s Ragnow with a Freudian slip, already calling Ben Johnson a head coach.
One of the bigger focuses for the offense this year has been creating tempo in and out of the huddle. Detroit has spent a significant time of their offseason program focusing on getting to the line quickly to create stress on the defense and catch them off-guard.
That doesn’t come easy. It’s not just a matter of coming out of the huddle and sprinting to the line of scrimmage. It requires quick communication in the huddle, quick adjustments at the line, and, most importantly, a simplified way to communicate so that what is typically conveyed in six or seven words can be transmitted in one or two. That’s where Johnson thrives.
“He’s an incredible communicator,” Ragnow continued. “He’s super relatable. I think him just being younger helps for sure, but then he’s just super relatable. Like I said earlier, this is complicating things we’re doing as an offense, but the way he simplifies it and gets it across to guys, so guys can be just like [snapping] ‘this, this,’ play fast. And I think that’s very special.”
Of course, Johnson also went above and beyond this offseason to make his quarterback more comfortable. Jared Goff sat down with Johnson for several days to go through his best tape from his Los Angeles Rams days, and they collaborated together to incorporate what worked into what they’re trying to build in Detroit. Needless to say, Goff was very appreciative of the gesture.
“I think the part that was most exciting for me was the influence he was allowing me to have, asking me, and really curious about what I thought and what I liked,” Goff said. “(He was) genuinely curious, because it’s now a part of what we’re doing, so I know it wasn’t fake. It’s exciting for me being in year seven now and feeling like I’ve earned kind of having that voice a little bit that he’s given to me, which has been fun.”
Johnson has also taken that collaborative strategy to his much-improved receiver room. Even going back to last year, Kalif Raymond noticed Johnson going out of his way to ask the players what they were seeing out there on the field.
“I don’t think any of our receivers ever feel like a shell when Ben Johnson’s out there telling us what to do, because he’ll be like, ‘Hey, you guys relay information,’ and he’s open too, man,” Raymond said. “So, because all the talks of — ‘Hey, what are you guys seeing? Relay the information, we’ll get it right.’ With that, it just creates so much trust and continuity.”
Johnson will obviously still have to prove it on the field this year. The Lions have a lot to improve upon after finishing last year 25th in scoring offense and 29th in total efficiency (by DVOA). But with a new offensive coordinator, an upgraded receiver room, and a healthy offensive line, its clear expectations are high.