Why Calvin Johnson May Never Get It

Calvin Johnson appeared on 97.1 in Detroit Thursday afternoon for an interview with Mike Valenti and Terry Foster. I happened to hear the interview live and a few of Calvin’s responses struck me a little funny. I suggest giving it a listen here and then continuing to read:

Mike did a good job of pressing Calvin for the differences between the Lions ability (lack there of) to get him the ball compared to Houston’s ability to continually find ways to get it to Andre Johnson. Obviously it is not in CJ’s nature to spout off about his role in the offense or criticize the coaching staff. That is part of the problem.

Think of the NFL’s greatest wide receivers, particularly those of the past decade. Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Ochocinco, Steve Smith, and Terrell Owens have a lot more than great stats in common. Each guy is or has been an elite level wide receiver that better be getting the ball or someone would hear about it. Calvin isn’t willing to do that and his potential legacy will suffer because of it.

Passivity, however, wasn’t my greatest concern with the way Calvin Johnson came across in the interview. When asked how the team would handle another loss on Sunday CJ said that they would have to look to the team leaders for support and direction. What might have sounded like an OK answer to some people was a huge red flag to me. The comment indicates that Calvin is not one of those team leaders and suggests he has no interest in stepping up in the dressing room. To me, that’s a problem.

Some might take a step back here and point out that Barry Sanders would never demonstratively demand the ball and he was certainly not a vocal leader. True, but the Lions were a different team back then. The offense could rely on guys like Lomas Brown and Herman Moore, more natural leaders that also played at a very high level. Calvin is without a doubt the most physically gifted member of the offense. Though he is in just his forth year he is also one of the longest tenured Lions offensively. This iteration of Detroit football can’t afford to have their best player take a back seat to an undersized center, a strikingly average yet much maligned left tackle, or a young quarterback that may or may not shave on regular basis.

I’m not trying to say that Calvin Johnson is a waste of talent or that he won’t end up having a very good NFL career when it is all said and done. I am suggesting that certain character traits (I won’t go so far as to say flaws) may be holding him back at a time when he could help this team the most. This team needs playmakers and leaders, it would be nice if that could come in one package.

[10/6 Update:] Matthew Stafford referred to Calvin Johnson as a guy that leads with his play during an interview on WJR. Great, sounds good in theory but it reeks of the company line. For a guy to “go out there and just try and play and lead that way”, as Stafford put it, shows that any sort of leadership that Calvin can muster is disengaged. Doing your job as expected is not the same as being a leader. Stafford can say what he wants in a radio interview but I’ll defer to CJ’s own words during last week’s interview on 97.1 FM that made it painfully obvious that he is not a team leader.

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Tags: Calvin Johnson Detroit Lions

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