Eleven games into his tenure as Detroit Lions offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson is beginning to generate some buzz as a head coaching candidate. But the first-year NFL play caller insisted Thursday that’s the furthest thing from his mind.
“Don’t even want to talk about it,” Johnson said.
Johnson, 36, has guided a Lions offense that’s overachieved in many ways this season.
The Lions are tied for eighth in the NFL in scoring at 25 points per game, rank among the top 10 in total, rushing and red zone offense, and have won three of their past four games despite a star-less cast.
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Jared Goff has shown significant improvement in his second season since being traded by the Los Angeles Rams, and the Lions have sustained their offensive production despite losing key offensive players D’Andre Swift, Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds for one or more games to injury, and trading top tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Johnson’s name began to percolate as a future head coaching candidate this summer, after his promotion to offensive coordinator, and he was the headline name in a Washington Post story from the weekend titled, “The buzziest names to watch in the next NFL hiring cycle.”
A relative unknown before his promotion — Johnson spent seven seasons as an assistant with the Miami Dolphins before being hired as an offensive quality control coach with the Lions in 2019, was promoted to tight ends coach in 2020 and took over as pass game coordinator midway through last season after Lions coach Dan Campbell stripped Anthony Lynn of play-calling duties — Johnson fits the mold of the bright, young offensive assistant many NFL teams desire as head coach.
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Johnson said he has not had time to reflect on his meteoric rise up the coaching ranks.
“But it’s certainly been a whirlwind putting in some different roles and just as I’ve always done, just trying to do the best job at whatever I’m asked to do,” he said. “But the future will take care of itself. I can’t worry about that right now, I’m just — I’m worried about us as an offense, continue to get better and score points and help us win games.”
The Lions have scored 30 or more points in five games this season, tied with the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks for most in the NFL.
Johnson indicated he has not spent any time preparing for potential head coaching interviews after the season, and won’t until the year is done.
The Lions have not had an assistant hired directly as another team’s head coach since Chuck Knox left his job as Lions offensive line coach to become Rams head coach in 1973.
“One hundred percent of my focus is on my current job, point blank,” Johnson said. “Point blank. All I care about is beating the Jacksonville Jaguars.”
Lions running back Jamaal Williams bounced around the locker room Thursday handing out holiday gifts to his offensive teammates.
Williams had personalized robes made for each player, with their name and number on the back and images of Williams flexing in his No. 30 jersey across the outer shell of the garment.
“I thought this was what you were supposed to do as a vet was to give presents,” Williams said. “This is what I’ve learned growing up. Like I’m used to every year of A-Rod (Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers) giving us Uggs or something. Just trying to do my best as a good vet, I guess.”
Lions offensive guard Jonah Jackson said veterans including Jared Goff, Matthew Stafford and Halapoulivaati Vaitai have given presents like Bose speakers, Shinola watches and Yeti sets to teammates in the past.
Asked where the robe with Williams’ face on it ranks, Jackson said, “It’s top three. Top two. It’s up there.”
“It just shows what kind of guy he is,” Jackson said. “He’s a selfless guy, a giving guy and something like this is awesome.”
Right tackle Penei Sewell (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday, putting him in line to start Sunday against the Jaguars. Right guard Evan Brown (ankle) and linebacker Julian Okwara (elbow) remain out for the Lions. Jackson and cornerback Jeff Okudah remain limited in their return from brain injuries.
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.