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

  • Houstonwino

    You start out with a comparison to Andre Johnson, then forget about him completely when you state, “Think of the NFL’s greatest wide receivers, particularly those of the past decade. Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Ochocinco, Steve Smith, and Terrell Owens.”

    Andre isn’t like any of those guys either, but he gets the ball. Andre is the best in the game, along with Calvin and Larry Fitzgerald. All three have freakish talent, but the ball has to be thrown their way and they can’t always be in triple coverage.

    I’m not sure what you think Calvin has to get…other than the ball.

    • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

      “I’m not sure what you think Calvin has to get…other than the ball.”

      An attitude. Sure, you have to have the ball thrown your way but you also have to demand it when it isn’t coming. All the best receivers have done it.

      The comparison to Andre Johnson is about the present. Houston gets him the ball for two reasons, he is their best player and he wants it. Does Calvin want it? I’m sure he does but he needs to learn to step up and demand it. If he isn’t willing to step up and be a leader then he really isn’t doing all he can to turn this team around.

  • CSims

    I agree with the Wino, this is a very weak argument. A great player shouldn’t have to demand the ball, it should be shoved down his throat by the team. It’s not in Calvin’s personality to be a loudmouth, but when he’s a free agent in a couple of years, actions will speak louder than words…..

    • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

      You’re right that the team should shove it down his throat, but they aren’t. The fact that he isn’t demanding it is a secondary concern for me. The apparent lack of desire to take on a leadership role is worrisome. People always want to find some external reason for why Calvin isn’t putting up elite level stats. Maybe it is time we look at the man himself.

      • CSims

        Come on dude, wake up, I’ve been watchin the Lions since ’89. This organization are losers, I hate to say it but it’s the truth. Even when they had one of the best RBs to ever they couldn’t get it right. If Calvin was drafted by Tampa Bay or another team he’d been a Pro Bowler at least twice by now. Calvin complaining about not getting the ball will change nothing, except maybe his mental health.

        • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

          Perhaps but that doesn’t change my criticism about Calvin Johnson’s lack of leadership skills. It wouldn’t be an issue on a team like the Steelers but he doesn’t play for the Steelers, he plays for the Lions. They need their best players to be leaders and so he may be wasting away in Detroit. If that is the case then he and the organization are to blame.

  • MFM

    Just listened to the interview, thanks for pointing it out. It is too bad he does not seem able become a leader for the team. I don’t want him to be like the other “diva” receivers but that doesn’t mean he can’t step up and be a leader for his team.

    I think it makes him a perfect fit for the Lions organization: reactionary and looking to someone else for guidance.

    Come on CJ, you have all the talent in the world, step up!

  • CSims

    Asking him to demand the ball is not going to make him a leader.Are Ochocinco and TO leaders? What about Randy Moss? They all have demanded the ball and have been labeled as selfish, so Calvin should do the same? A player can be a great and be reserved. The Saints Marcus Colston is even more quiet than CJ, and nobody complains about that down in NO.

    You lead by play, not with your mouth.

    • http://sidelionreport.com/ Zac Snyder

      As I stated in the article, demanding the ball is a different issue and secondary to me compared to his lack of leadership skills.

      When your best offensive talent, a fourth year player, talks about needing to look up to the team leaders to hold things together amidst all the losing there is a problem. He should be one of those leaders he referred to. I understand that not every player is equipped to be a leader, but if Calvin was able to step up and take on that role I believe the team would be much better for it.

      I can’t tell from your comments if you have listened to the interview. If you have you should hear how reluctant Calvin comes across to take control of any situation. He seems pretty comfortable in the back seat and that worries me.

  • CSims

    Yes, I did listen to the interview, and that’s just who Calvin is. The same way you can’t ask TO or Ochocinco to tone it down, you can’t ask a reserved person to be a vocal leader if it’s not in his nature. The Colts kicker, I think it was VanderJact, criticized Manning and Coach Dungy for the same thing, becaused they were “too laid back”. You can’t force someone to be something they’re not. From my understanding he does lead, by working hard in the weight room and film room and setting an example to his teammates.

  • dip

    Can we please stop making excuses for Calvin?! He is an amazing talent and the Lions inability to get him the ball is a tragedy. However, he has shown me nothing to prove that he is an elite receiver. Show me something! Step up and make plays – Barry always found a way even with the worse line in the league.


  • dab

    Calvin is a good WR he’s young 4 yrs in the NFL he doesnt need to demand the ball! His play will demand the ball! The Lions just cant get it to him! Jerry Rice Steve Largent the elite played with CLASS and played twenty plus years. Lets have the elite conversation in 2020

  • Stan

    The funny thing is that all the media writers want to talk about how selfish a player is when he is complaining about not getting the ball and when you have a guy with talent and RESPECTABLE attitude you want to complain. This article is crap.