ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Former Detroit Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom, nicknamed “The Perfect Human Being,” always worked and prepared harder than anyone else. He seemingly never made mistakes and was admired for the way he lived his life off the ice, too.
Sound familiar, Lions fans?
Receiver Calvin Johnson is the NFL’s version of the perfect human being. He set the record for most receiving yards in a season last year – 1,964 – but he acts no differently for it.
It’s the second week of training camp, two days before the preseason opener against the New York Jets at Ford Field, and Johnson continues to be the consummate leader by example.
“You would think he wasn’t Megatron,” rookie receiver Corey Fuller said.
“It’s impressive to watch someone who is that humble but that great,” said cornerback Ron Bartell, entering his ninth NFL season. “Greatness usually comes with some type of pride and attitude.”
Coach Jim Schwartz added: “There’s a stereotype of diva wide receivers (in the NFL). Calvin breaks a lot of stereotypes.”
Even though he’s already the best, Johnson keeps pushing to get better as he begins his seventh year in the league.
“There’s always something to be worked on,” he said.
It’s become a training-camp tradition around here for teammate Nate Burleson to insist that Johnson somehow, some way actually is better than the previous year, which inevitably leads to skepticism.
Nice quote, Nate, but seriously, how is that possible?
“A lot of people don’t believe me,” Burleson said. “But he works as if he doesn’t have a dollar to his name and he’s trying to make the team.
“It’s inspirational to see a guy who’s not a diva, doesn’t care about the limelight, doesn’t care about the praise, doesn’t care about the glory. He just wants to go out there and set the standard higher and higher each day.
“Each day he proves why he’s the best in the world. You can’t come with your B game because Calvin’s always going to be on his A game. Even when you’re trying to work as hard as Calvin, you just don’t. That’s why he’s as good as he is.
“And he was blessed with a few attributes that we don’t have. God hit him with the special stick.”
Because of this constant mentality, you can be certain that Johnson will be as determined as ever to get into the end zone this season.
He scored only five touchdowns last year, 11 fewer than in 2011, and got stopped at the 1-yard line five times.
Not quite so perfect, after all.
“I heard that stat,” Johnson said following Wednesday’s practice. “I was just watching film from last year. You see a couple times where it happened. It’s not really extra effort, sometimes just position that we’re in. It just depends on the situation. It’s not anything extra that I have to do, but hopefully get in the end zone a little more.”
Although Johnson’s personal goal is to hit the 2,000-yard mark in receptions, it’s quite likely his yardage will drop with the addition of running back Reggie Bush and the return from injuries by two other top receivers, Burleson and Ryan Broyles.
There simply should be more quality options for quarterback Matthew Stafford to spread the ball around, which is just fine with Johnson. He’d like to see “multiple guys with 1,000-yard seasons.”
Johnson, who is 6-foot-5, 236 pounds with great speed and hands, has a way of twisting the phrase “Do as I say, not as I do.”
He doesn’t say a lot, but everything he does shows the way for anyone else around him. However, if there’s one trait missing in his perfect human being, it’s that he’s not more vocal. The Lions, who clearly lacked leadership last season while losing eight straight to finish 4-12, probably would benefit by hearing more from their superstar.
He’s just not the boisterous type. He talks more to his teammates on an individual basis. Youngsters like Fuller and Broyles frequently get advice from Johnson.
“I talk to my teammates all the time,” Johnson said. “That’s not a problem.”
But he’ll never be confused with being the vocal, demanding leader, which can be so valuable to a team when done properly.
“He’ll speak out sometimes,” Broyles said. “He doesn’t speak too much, but when he does, on a serious note, we all listen.”
Mostly, they just watch because Johnson’s actions, day in and day out, make that powerful of a statement.
EXTRA POINTS — Former Lions great Herman Moore, who last played in 2001, made a cameo appearance at the end of practice and caught a touchdown pass from Stafford.
“He can still catch a fade in the red zone, that’s for sure,” Schwartz said. “It’s always good for our guys to know who came before them. We’ve got some younger guys who probably don’t remember seeing him play.
“It’s nice to know before Calvin, there was another guy down here that we could put in the red zone and get a fade if they went one-on-one with him.”
— Broyles was limited in Tuesday’s practice and then sat out Wednesday to rest his surgically-repaired knee.
“There’s no setback or anything like that,” Schwartz said. “He’s well ahead of where he was last year (following an ACL surgery on the other knee). He’s doing very, very well. We’re trying to prevent a setback.”