Detroit Lions: It’s Ty Johnson’s time to shine on third down
By Kellen Voss
While running back Theo Riddick had to be cut to pay new defensive tackle Mike Daniels, a rookie running back may finally get the chance he deserves.
A familiar face for Detroit Lions fans will no longer be taking the field on third downs like he usually does, as earlier this weekend, the team cut veteran running back Theo Riddick to make room for recently-acquired former Pro Bowl defensive linemen Mike Daniels.
In his six seasons in Detroit, Riddick made his presence felt on offense, particularly on third down. Commonly used as quarterback Matthew Stafford’s safety blanket, Riddick would always be open on dump down throws and quick routes out of the slot, also possessing the shiftiness to usually make at least one defender miss a tackle.
While it’s sad to see Riddick go, managing editor of The Lions Wire Jeff Risdon put it perfectly in a recent tweet.
Risdon’s right. It would have been difficult to give any third-string running back a $3.2 million base salary if he can’t at least contribute on special teams. Not to mention the fact that Riddick has also been dealing with a few nagging injuries in recent years.
Even though he is listed as a running back, Riddick did much of his damage in Detroit in the passing game. One of the most reliable pass-catching backs in the league, Riddick has almost 300 receptions, racking up 7.9 yards per reception and 14 receiving touchdowns in his time in Detroit.
The departure of Riddick gives the rest of the Detroit Lions running backs more opportunities. In his second season, Kerryon Johnson should expect to play more downs in 2019, and veteran back C.J. Anderson will provide a change of pace while being big enough to convert on short yardage chances.
With the new shift to a run-heavy offense under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, rookie running back Ty Johnson may be a better fit for the offense than Riddick was, as the former Maryland Terrapin brings more power, decisiveness, and speed around the corner than Riddick could ever provide.
While both backs split third-team running back reps at training camp on Friday, it was looking they were going to both have to fight for a roster spot before the cutting news came about. What would have helped Johnson in that battle is his special teams potential, as he was taking first-team reps returning punts.
All the return jobs are wide open in Detroit, and Johnson was a dynamic return man in his time at Maryland. He was one of the best in the Big Ten, averaging 24.9 yards per return while racking up 1,194 total return yards and even finding the end zone twice.
Johnson wasn’t just good as a return man, as he also made his presence from the backfield against Big Ten opponents. Rushing for a total of 2,635 yards in his four years, he was able to average 7.6 yards per carry and converted 17 touchdowns.
While he wasn’t called upon much in the passing game, he made the most of his few opportunities. He was able to make the most of his 29 catches, gaining over 300 yards and 11 yards per catch to go along with two touchdowns.
While Johnson wasn’t use much in the passing game in his time in Maryland, that was also the case for Kerryon Johnson in Auburn, and the Lions helped him develop the skills to make him a formidable option out of the backfield.
Matt Patricia is seeing a lot of similarities between the two young backs that share a last name. Here’s what the Lions’ head coach told Justin Rogers of the Detroit News.
"“They’re young players trying to learn as far as Ty and Kerryon are concerned, and they just have to keep improving from that standpoint. It’s a good time of year to work on it. It’s a good time of the year to take a look at it and see where it is compared to maybe what we saw last year or what we saw on film in college.”"
While Ty Johnson will have to compete for reps this offseason with Kerryon Johnson, Anderson, and Zach Zenner, his speed and ability to contribute on special teams gives him a puncher’s chance, and this new offense will hopefully help him find the end zone a few times in 2019.