Lions OC Johnson shares thoughts on Jameson Williams, Tanner Engstrand and more

Detroit News

On Wednesday, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson sat down with the team’s website and, for the first time, talked about the process of interviewing for head-coaching vacancies before ultimately withdrawing his name from consideration for those openings.

Now that he’s confirmed to be back in the fold for the upcoming season, Johnson touched on his excitement about several of the players he’ll continue to coach. Here are some additional excerpts from that interview:

▶ On quarterback Jared Goff’s 2022 performance: “Yeah, it’s a testament to him. He’s gone through a lot through his career. He’s seen a lot of coaches come in and come out and he’s really been steady throughout. I think it’s helped him grow as a player and as a teammate. So, it’s been encouraging.

“There was plenty that we took from him from his past that we knew he did really well. And he opened up and was willing to be challenged in some areas, as well. We saw him make tremendous growth from the end of last year, through training camp. Bye week, we dove in on how he would improve as a player and thought we saw the dividends of that in the second half of the season. The good news is this, when he comes back in the building, we’re going to have another plan of action for him to take another few steps forward, to where he can continue to progress and be an even better player than he was this past year. That’s the exciting thing, and knowing him, he’s going to embrace it and run with it.”

▶ On receiver Jameson Williams’ second season: “What happened when the ball got in his hands last year? Explosion. We see it, you see it, everyone sees it. It’s there. Jared said it before, consistency, that’s really the name of the game. We’ve had some great conversations with Jamo, even since the season ended, and I know his mind is going to be right when he gets back in here in the springtime. He’s really looking forward to taking that next step as a player and really make a big impact on this league.

“We’ll move him around. He’ll be all over the place for us. I know this, when you get speed in the slot, it’s very hard to defend for a defense. There will be times we do that; there will be times he’s an X, he’ll be Z, but there’s a lot he can do.”

▶ On receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown’s versatility: “(General manager) Brad (Holmes) and (coach) Dan (Campbell) talk about it all the time — we just want the best football players that we can find. That’s what Amon-Ra is; he’s a phenomenal football player. Take the receiver part out of it, he’s just a natural football player and we can’t get enough of him. We want to line him up as the lead blocker. We want to line him up with the ball in his hands. We want to have him run all the routes. He can do all that. He’s an ultimate chess piece and it’s fun. We’re going to continue to push the limits with him. I think he’s made it well known he wants to get that deep ball going a little bit this year, so we’ll see what we can do.”

On passing-game coordinator Tanner Engstrand’s development: “A guy like Tanner really came through in a big way for us last year because I can trust him. I know what he’s going to relay to the players is going to be within my voice, within Dan’s voice; we’re all saying the same thing. I think that’s the biggest thing with not only Tanner, but with the rest of the staff. As long as you can trust these guys, you’re in that same boat together and everyone is rowing the same direction, you’re going to have a chance.

“I really think Tanner grew as we went along, too. I could trust him to run some meetings maybe where I’m trying to get a jump ahead for the next day or the next practice. He could take that pass-game pod — the receivers, the quarterbacks, the tight ends — and make sure they were crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s.”

▶ On finding more uses for offensive tackle Penei Sewell: “Yeah, we’ve got some things in mind. I was texting with (center) Frank Ragnow during the Super Bowl because Philly got known for that quarterback sneak. Frank said, ‘Hey, why don’t we do more of that quarterback sneak?’ I’m like, ‘Ok, got it.’ I was like, ‘How do you feel about putting Penei at quarterback and have him do it?’ He’s all on board, he’s like, ‘That’s brilliant; let’s do it.”

▶ On the upcoming free-agency period: “You always start with evaluating your own first. We have some free agents who are up on offense, who were big-time contributors for us. (Jamaal Williams) and DJ (Chark) are the first two that come to mind. We’ll see what happens. I know we certainly value what they were able to bring to the table for us offensively last year, and we’ll see what else is out there, as well. Brad and Dan, they’ll come together, they’ll be aligned, and we’ll have a great plan for free agency and the draft.

“Our coaches, right now, they’re working. In the morning, we’re doing our self-scout. In the afternoon, we’re doing personnel and trying to find what’s the next piece for us offensively. How can they help us?”

Lions keeping Montgomery

Recently-hired running backs and assistant head coach Scottie Montgomery interviewed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator job this week, but that franchise is going in a different direction, hiring Seattle quarterback coach Dave Canales to fill the vacancy.

That means Montgomery will be sticking with the Lions. Duce Staley’s replacement, Montgomery played three seasons in the NFL before entering coaching in 2006 with his alma mater, Duke.

He brings a wealth of experience, having served as a position coach during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ last Super Bowl win in 2009, paired with time as both an offensive coordinator and head coach at the collegiate level.

Montgomery spent the past two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts in the same positions he’ll have in Detroit. There he led the NFL’s most-efficient rushing attack in 2021, with the team averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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