“And he just gives you that nod like, ‘I’m ready,’ ” Jefferson said.
It’s no surprise Johnson and his best-in-sports nickname, “Megatron” are ready. They were ready last year too when, as a second-year receiver, Johnson caught 78 passes for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns.
But the Lions themselves were far from ready. And if anyone’s going to know who Johnson is, Detroit has to transform.
“If people watched this kid last year the whole world would know about him,” said Jefferson, a 13-year pro with the Chargers, Patriots and Falcons. “Our record overshadowed everything.”
The record, of course, was 0-16. Historic. And Johnson’s performance was rendered a mere footnote amid the haplessness.
So — still — too many people don’t know what the second overall pick from the 2007 (a kid who doesn’t even turn 24 until the end of the month), is all about.
And he’s sure not going to tell you.
In a recent phone conversation, the Georgia native parried every attempt to get him to talk about his own talents.
Asked whether he expected more attention in 2009, Johnson said, “I can’t predict the future but from the work we’re putting in, I feel good about our chances. Attention would come after the results of the season come. We have to fight it out this season. Fight it out and not let ourselves think too much about the other stuff.”
But the attention that other players at his position covet — guys like Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Brandon Marshall — it has no appeal?
“That’s not nothing to me,” he insisted. “I’m just a regular guy doing my job.”
“This kid is a work … a … holic,” Jefferson said. “He’s one of those guys you have to tell him to slow down. He’s the first one on the field, the last one to leave. The whole group adjusts to his tempo at practice. He is what is right about football.”
And now, after his team turned in a season that was all wrong, Johnson may have caught something else. A break. Between strong-armed veteran Daunte Culpepper and strong-armed rookie Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick, there is comparable talent at quarterback for Megatron.
“Jon Kitna (the Lions’ quarterback for 20 of the 32 games Johnson’s been in the league) couldn’t get him the ball,” said Jefferson. “If you don’t throw that ball up in a hurry, he will outrun your arm. We had a saying when I played, ‘If you’re even, you’re leavin’.’ That means if you get even with the corner, he will not be able to stay with you. With Calvin, if he’s within 2 yards of you, he’s leavin’.”
At the 2007 NFL Combine, Johnson ran a 4.35 40-yard dash, had a vertical jump of more than 42 inches and broad jumped an absurd 11 feet. All this after measuring out at 6-foot-5, 239 pounds.
Yet he plays like the 53rd man on the 52-man roster, according to Jefferson.
“What will separate him from all the rest of the guys is that want-to,” he said. “Every so often, God will bless the whole world with an athlete that is fully put together. This guy understands that he has to work. He knows he’s talented and he’s one of the best receivers in the league. But he’s not satisfied.
Asked if Johnson is as fast as Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss, Jefferson assures that Johnson is. Then he adds, “Here’s the difference between him and Randy. This kid will go across the middle, sacrifice his body to get a block. I don’t think Randy Moss is the most courageous guy in the world. And with Calvin you don’t have to worry about a play going the other way and this guy dog-assing it on the back end.
“He does everything you want a star player to do,” said Jefferson. “And Calvin doesn’t say anything. He figures, ‘If I put the work in, they’ll write the story for me.’ ”
CSN: Brian Urlacher, who played 13 seasons for the Bears, announced his retirement from football Wenesday on his personal twitter account.
NFL special report
Players who will soon become household names
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Woodson back to the beginning
ProFootballTalk: Charles Woodson's career has come full circle after inking a deal with the team that drafted him. But was the deal done out of desperation on Woodson's part?
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.