ALLEN PARK, Mich. — What you see on Sundays with Calvin Johnson is the finished product — the superstar receiver for the Detroit Lions, a 6-foot-5, 236-pound beast who’s been nicknamed “Megatron.”
What you don’t see is the tireless work ethic, his relentless approach to getting better and better.
In an era of diva receivers throughout the NFL, Johnson remains a coach’s dream come true.
“Calvin just got a big contract and he goes out there like it’s his first year again,” Lions cornerback Chris Houston said after a recent training-camp practice.
“That pushes you. Calvin’s the best player on the team. If he pushes himself like that, you know you have to push yourself like that.”
If anyone could afford to take off a few repetitions during training camp, even some practices, it’s certainly Calvin Johnson.
But he’s out there day after day, play after play, setting an example of how to be great.
“It’s a good lesson for everybody to learn who wants to follow an athlete,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “I can’t think of anyone better than him.”
The Lions didn’t make Johnson the highest-paid receiver in the NFL — eight years for $132 million with $60 million guaranteed — just because of his rare talents.
They were also paying him for the example he sets for everyone else in the organization, especially inside the locker room.
If any team these days needs a good example, it’s the Detroit Lions, who were rocked during the offseason by a series of negative stories that included seven arrests.
Johnson, 26, can’t fix all the club’s problems, but he can show the way to be a pro’s pro.
When a superstar is also a team’s hardest worker, it delivers a strong message about what’s expected out of everyone.
To Johnson, it’s simply what you’re supposed to do.
Day after day, he does things the right way.
“If you want to perfect your craft, you’ve got to work hard at it,” Johnson said. “It’s not going to come to you. You’ve got to work on your skill all the time.”
And so he just keeps on working.
Teammate Nate Burleson, also a receiver, insists that Johnson is actually bigger, stronger and better this year, if that’s humanly possible.
“It’s hard to believe, but I think he’s right,” Linehan said of Burleson’s assessment.
It’s a frightening thought for cornerbacks around the league considering Johnson caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
But this is what happens when God-given ability is pushed to the limit by intense desire.
“I can see that he’s gotten stronger, gotten faster,” Burleson said. “I don’t know what it is about him, but each year he comes in working harder than ever. That’s why he’s the best in the league.”
Johnson downplays it all, which is his nature.
He prefers to stay out of the spotlight, but that’s getting more difficult to do. He’s on the cover of the Madden video game. He’s considered the No. 3 player in the game, behind only quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, according to a player poll by the NFL Network.
Johnson was even recognized during a recent trip to Mexico, where they referred to him as — what else? — Megatron.
The nickname was given to him during his rookie year by former teammate Roy Williams, who thought Johnson’s freakish size and skills were similar to the powerful animated robot character from the “Transformers” movies.
Johnson, entering his sixth season in the NFL, admits he preferred when he could stay under the radar a little more with his celebrity status.
“I could go wherever I wanted to go without anyone bothering me,” he said. “I like to go about my business and do what I like to do.”
Those days are probably over.
Even though he doesn’t seek the publicity, it’s his own fault.