Calvin Johnson was back on the practice fields in Allen Park this week, strolling the grounds where he spent so much of his Hall of Fame career. After a long estrangement, Johnson and the Lions are starting to make peace.
"With everything, it’s a process and we’re making progress," Johnson said Friday on 97.1 The Ticket. "So I just look forward to continued efforts to move in the right direction."
Those efforts have started in earnest this offseason, led by Lions COO Mike Disner. Johnson hasn't been formally tied to the team since it made him re-pay a portion of his signing bonus following his early retirement in 2016. But he's hosting a free high school football camp with several of his former teammates at the Lions practice facility on Sunday through the Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation, which supports underserved youth in Detroit and Johnson's home city of Atlanta, and he made it out to a couple practices this week during Lions minicamp.
Next Monday, he's hosting the first annual Calvin Johnson Jr. Foundation Celebrity Golf Classic at Plum Hollow CC in Southfield.
At Thursday's practice, Johnson linked up with fellow receiver and first-round pick Jameson Williams. He's eager to support the 22-year-old in any way he can moving forward.
"I connected with Jamo yesterday really for the first time and I look forward to being around him and being a shoulder for him to lean on," Johnson said. "Extremely talented kid. We saw him when he touched the field last year for the first time. I look forward to just helping him build the level of consistency and being the pro he wants to be, man. Anything I can to do help him, I’ll do that and I’ll be there."
There could be no better guiding hand for Williams, who has all the talent in the world but has yet to unleash it in the NFL. He missed most of last season recovering from a torn ACL and will miss the first six games of this season as he serves a suspension for violating the NFL's gambling policy. While Williams is away from the team, who knows -- maybe he can get some reps in with Johnson (so long as he isn't officially affiliated with the Lions).
"It’s the NFL, man, I was part of it for a long time. Just to be around it, it never gets old. The competition, the speed of the game and then the camaraderie that we had when we played, it’s always great to be around that locker room vibe," Johnson said.
And it's a privilege for the Lions current players to be around Johnson. Take it from their head coach, who was teammates with Johnson for two seasons in Detroit when the two forged a bond that has stood the test of time.
"I can never say enough about Calvin," said Dan Campbell. "It was a short period of time when I was with him, but he was an unbelievable teammate. For a guy that is a Hall of Fame player, he was the ultimate teammate. And those don’t always go hand-in-hand. You talk about a grinder, a worker and 'I won’t let the guy next to me down' -- and a rare talent. Guys like that, you want to do anything you can for.
"So to have him out here, there’s a level of respect that will always be there for me. But even our players, they know who he is. Anybody who has played this game, they understand the type of player he was from a production standpoint. I wish they knew what kind of teammate he really was. I wish they had a chance to actually play with him. But it’s good to have him here. It is. It’s good for us.”
Campbell's return to Detroit two years ago is what initially lured Johnson back toward the Lions. The man nicknamed Megatron still remembers Campbell "looking like RoboCop" one season when he "operated on one arm." Johnson says the Lions are in good hands with Campbell, "a player’s coach" and a "bring-your-lunchpail-to-work kind of guy."