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Calvin Johnson is a fan favorite and he hasn't even played a regular-season game. The Lions' rookie said, "You know, you want to win the rookie of the year, being a rookie. ... I kind of set my goals kind of high."
Top-10 receivers: Plenty of hits and misses
September 9, 2007
From the moment Calvin Johnson arrived in Detroit, reporters have been trying to get something colorful out of him. And for the most part, it has been futile.
Johnson has done interviews while walking off the field, briskly. He has done them while checking messages on his handheld device, looking down. He has made short, polite, bland comments.
No surprise, then, that Johnson did nothing to add to the buzz about his regular-season debut today in Oakland. If anything, he tried to kill it.
The Raiders had the first pick in this year's draft. Did Johnson think he was going to Oakland?
"No thought at all," Johnson said. "I didn't know where I was going."
Does it matter to Johnson that the Raiders passed on him in favor of quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who hasn't even signed yet?
What does Johnson think about not being a starter yet?
"It's not really in my thought process," Johnson said. "I'm really just trying to learn the offense, get acclimated with everything right now and learn from these guys in front of me."
Johnson wouldn't bite on other angles, either. He has no superstitions. He has no weird pregame rituals. He just listens to whatever is on his iPod: hip-hop, R&B.
The best sound bite Johnson gave was about his goals. He's quiet, but he's confident.
"You know, you want to win the rookie of the year, being a rookie," Johnson said. "You know, you want to be in Pro Bowls and all those things. I kind of set my goals kind of high."
Johnson's attitude was a big reason the Lions drafted him, and it has endeared him to his coaches and teammates, who have seen too many rookies talk too much.
They are trying to manage expectations for him -- for this particular game and the entire season. They remind you he still has a lot to learn. But at the same time, they recognize his talent and potential. They don't want to sell him short.
Listen to quarterback Jon Kitna go back and forth:
"He's still a rookie. If you're looking for him to just explode and average 100 yards every week early on in the season, I don't think that's going to be the case. ...
"But the speed of the game changes from (off-season practices) to training camp to now, going to opening day. The speed of the game changes, and those are things you have to adjust to. The other guys, they've seen it, and they know it, and they know what to expect.
"But then again, he is pretty dominant."
"And he will be working against somebody that definitely isn't as tall as him, and he runs as fast as them, so he's going to have a chance to make some big plays for us every week, and, certainly, this week is no different."
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz will be calculated with Johnson today, trying to put him in the best positions to succeed.
Johnson is responsible for knowing everything everyone else must know. But Martz knows what Johnson can handle and what he can do well at this point.
"We're trying to help him," Martz said. "He has so much on his mind right now. It's going to be a process for him. We're going to be very careful about how much we ask him to do in a game.
"We're going to piece him in there and give him opportunities to make some plays. I have great confidence that speed and that talent that we know he's got will show up."
Wide receiver Roy Williams said what he has been saying all along, that Johnson's talent won't really show up until next year, when he's comfortable in the offense and can play without thinking.
"I think he'll be a little nervous, especially being in a hostile environment in Oakland with the fans and the dirt baseball field-type deal," Williams said. "But I think he's going to come out real positive, and I think he's going to make some plays for us, and he's going to have some growing pains as well, just like I did as a rookie."
Last weekend, Johnson went to South Bend, Ind. He stood on the sidelines as his former Georgia Tech teammates routed Notre Dame, 33-3.
Did he get recognized a lot?
"Yeah, I did," Johnson said. "But I was focused on the game just like the guys were. It was almost as if I was still playing there."
If it is anything like that today, Johnson will be just fine.
Contact NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA at 313-222-8831 or email@example.com. Free Press sports writer Carlos Monarrez contributed.