This offseason, the Detroit Lions promoted tight ends coach Ben Johnson to offensive coordinator. By most accounts, this was a formality. Johnson had his fingerprints all over the offense when head coach Dan Campbell decided to take over play-calling duties from then-OC Anthony Lynn midway through the season. From there, Johnson’s influence over the offense only grew.
Now headed into Year 2 of the Campbell era, it appears Johnson has much different plans for the offense in 2022.
”I would definitely say it’s different than last year,” wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown told the media on Wednesday. “Definitely new language. You got to kind of start over. Obviously, there’s a little bit of rollover from last year, but not much. He’s revamped it, kind of made it his own. It’s like a new language, it takes a minute, but once we get it all down, it’s going to be easy for us.”
Unsurprisingly, Lions players weren’t eager to give away too many details of this new offense—and there is likely a lot Johnson still has to design and create—but we did get a few hints.
For one, it appears the Lions are going to have a lot moving parts when it comes to their offense. Because so many of their receivers can play multiple positions, Detroit is prepared to utilize that versatility.
That appeals to new Lions receiver DJ Chark, who admitted he felt a bit one-dimensional in his previous offenses, which featured four different offensive coordinators in his past four years.
“My last few years, I don’t want to say (I was) put in a box, but just running specific routes and schemes,” Chark said. “Here, (I’m) playing multiple positions, moving around, running all the routes.
“Even if I’m probably not running them in the game, I’m practicing them and doing them over and over, getting better. I think that helps me a lot because I feel like that’s when I’m at my best, when I can move around. That’s what this offense requires out of us, to be able to know multiple spots and move around, so we can do what each player does best and attack the defense the best way we can.”
One specific area Chark believes he can improve his game is with yards after the catch. For much of his career in Jacksonville, Chark was a deep route runner asked to use his length for contested catches. In Detroit, he’s expecting opportunities to get the ball in his hands and run.
“I enjoy having the ball in my hand and being able to run, make moves, show toughness, things like that,” Chark said. “Being able to do that, as well, in addition to what I’ve already been doing would be pretty fun.”
St. Brown, whose late-season breakout happened to line up almost exactly with when Campbell took over play-calling duties, is also excited by the new offense. Mostly, he’s just been impressed with his new coordinator.
“I think Ben stepping in halfway through the season really helped us as an offense with the pass game,” St. Brown said. “I love him. I think he’s one of the better coaches I’ve ever been around, and I’m super excited for him to be the offensive coordinator.”
Of course, there’s also the addition of 12th overall pick Jameson Williams to the crew. The former Alabama receiver who racked up 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns last season may or may not be ready at the start of the season due to a torn ACL in January, but one thing is for certain, he’s going to open this offense up once he —and his 4.3 (4.2?) speed—hit the field.
“I think it’s just going to open up more holes in the middle,” St. Brown said. “I don’t think we had too much success last year with the deep ball. That’s an area as an offense that we want to improve on, and adding guys like that is going to help us. Like I said, it’s just going to open up more holes in the middle, so it’s going to be great for us.”
Expectations for this offense are certainly going to be higher this year. Detroit’s offensive line—which was marred by injury last year—is headed into offseason activities at full strength. Detroit is bringing back their strong stable of running backs, Jared Goff is entering Year 2 in Detroit, and with the additions of Chark and Williams to a receiving corps that was depleted midway through last season, it does feel like all the pieces are in place .
“When (Williams) gets here and we can put it all together, I think it makes it easier for everyone,” Chark said. “A lot of times in offenses, I would be used to be the guy to open up the field for others, but it would be cool to open up the field for others and they do the same. We’ve just got so many different pieces: the o-line and great running backs. I’m excited. I think the sky’s the limit.”