WR Johnson living up to the hype
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There's that old saying that if something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
"I've coached, I think, since 1969, and I can look you straight in the eye and tell you, honestly, I have never been around a player like Calvin Johnson," said Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. "Every day you see it. The physical skills are the best I've seen. The way he practices every single rep he's on the field never changes. He's 100 percent effort and 100 percent competitive. The same, every play. Wow."
Cunningham said he shouldn't have been surprised. He joined Jim Schwartz's staff in Detroit after a stint with the Kansas City Chiefs, where Chan Gailey was the offensive coordinator. Gailey had been Johnson's college head coach at Georgia Tech.
"Everything I just told you about Calvin -- and I gave you the abbreviated version -- Chan told me about," said Cunningham. "Chan told me I would see the most talented player practice and play at the same level every day. And he was right."
So while Schwartz swears he doesn't know whether he'll open the season with Daunte Culpepper or top draft pick Matthew Stafford at quarterback, he offers no hesitation in offering his own testimony on their favorite weapon.
"Just a freak," Schwartz said. "There are three things that describe Calvin Johnson: One, he is a truly great player. Two, he is the hardest-working player on the team. Three, he is the most humble great player I've ever been around. Now I've been around players who fit the first two descriptions, but not all three combined."
Of course, Johnson came to the Lions with all the hype when he was the second player chosen in the 2007 NFL draft. In 2008, his second season, he caught 78 passes for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns. It was the only true positive in the NFL's most negative season ever for the 0-16 Lions.
Schwartz was the defensive coordinator for the Tennessee Titans, who pinned the Lions' most lopsided defeat on them last Thanksgiving by a 47-10 margin. Regardless, the new Lions coach said he did not enjoy the week preparing for the old Lions last season because of No. 81.
"We had just lost our first game to the Jets the previous Sunday," Schwartz said. "I had a bad taste in my mouth and then I started watching more Lions tape. And even though coaches work a lot of 100-hour weeks, I had about five days of no sleep when we faced the Lions because I saw what Calvin could do to a defense on any given play. The focal point of our game plan was stopping Calvin."
Johnson caught five passes for 60 yards in that game. And the lesson for Schwartz is clear: A team may have one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, but it guarantees you nothing. Zip. Nada. Zero.
Just ask the Lions.
A little more of what I saw and learned visiting the Lions, the eighth stop on my training camp bus tour:
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.
MORT GOES TO CAMP
ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen's 21-team bus tour of training camps is over. Mort's trip started in Arlington, Texas, where he met Dallas owner Jerry Jones at the team's new stadium and ended in Miami Gardens, Fla., for a visit with the Dolphins. Mort camp page