Kerryon Johnson was just a kid when his older siblings hit him with elbows while playing hoops.
And his parents, both of whom played college basketball, did not swoop in to save their young son from the physical games.
Sure, playing at Auburn and in the SEC did a lot to get the Detroit Lions’ rookie running back ready for the NFL .
Growing up in Huntsville, Alabama, though as the youngest of four athletic children did a lot to develop him, too.
“My parents let it go because they knew I was being prepared for moments like this,” Johnson said Wednesday after a joint practice with the New York Giants.
“When I look back at those times, I’m grateful. It taught me to be competitive and how to work hard and never give up.
“I look back on those days and I’m grateful.”
Detroit, meanwhile, is thankful it drafted Johnson in the second round.
He had a run and a reception for 30-plus yards in his professional debut, albeit it a preseason game last week against the Oakland Raiders.
While the Lions were encouraged by Johnson’s flashes of promise, and have been pleased by how well he has practiced, they are quick to pump the breaks to temper the enthusiasm about him.
“I was excited to see him have a couple big plays and show off some of his natural ability,” Detroit coach Matt Patricia said. “But from an overall standpoint, we’ve a long way to go there.”
Detroit’s running game can’t get much worse.
Under former coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions ranked last in rushing offense in 2017 for the second time in three years.
In the other two seasons with Caldwell, the team ranked No. 30 and No. 28 in the NFL on the ground offensively.
Johnson won’t be expected to fix the lingering problem alone.
Detroit selected Frank Ragnow 20th overall in the draft, counting on him to play alongside four returning starters to bolster the offensive line.
Veteran running back LeGarrette Blount was signed early in free agency to likely lead a group that also includes Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah.
“I’ve had a smooth start because I’ve got a great room of guys, who have really helped me make the transition,” Johnson said.
“I owe my early success to them. They’ve helped me to develop a routine and have encouraged me to stick to it to keep my mind focused on the next day.
“This is a long season. It feels like we’ve already played three games, but we’ve only played one preseason game.”
Johnson said he goes to bed at 10:30 p.m., at the latest, so that he’s ready to wake up for 6 a.m. to tackle training camp.
The grind his parents and siblings put him through while he was growing up got him ready to thrive now.
His father, Kerry, owns and operates VSI Training in Alabama where he trains athletes. His mother, Natalie, is a home health nurse and she can keep him in line by simply saying, “Son,” with a certain look.
His brother, Kerron, beat out future NBA star DeMarcus Cousins for Mr. Basketball in Alabama and went on to play in Europe. His sister, Nyla, played basketball at Faulkner University and another sister, Kolanda, used her athletic skills to dance.
“We raised Kerryon in a challenging household,” Kerry Johnson said in a telephone interview while driving to Detroit for an exhibition game against the Giants on Friday night.
“Everyone in our family is competitive, and we pushed everyone to be competitive.”
Giants rookie RB Saquon Barkley was held out of practice for a second straight day with a strained left hamstring. Like his injured teammates, Barkley was in uniform minus shoulder pads. “Just because you don’t get the rep doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for seeing what happened and try to visualize what you’d do if you were out there,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “As long as they can defend themselves and it’s not a lower leg injury of some sort or something where they need immediate attention, I think it’s important for them to be out there.” … The Lions lined up Graham Glasgow at guard a day after leaving practice with a left leg injury, and rookie Frank Ragnow was moved to center.
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