Lions WR Johnson says preseason game doesn't count as his debut
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -Calvin Johnson will play as a professional for the first time when the Detroit Lions host the Cincinnati Bengals.
The receiver said he won't count it as his debut.
``Not until the regular season starts,'' Johnson said Wednesday, walking off the practice field after signing numerous autographs for fans. ``But I'm definitely excited.''
The Lions and their long-suffering fans are also fired up to see him play against Cincinnati on Thursday night, less than a week after the second pick in the draft ended an eight-day holdout.
``He needs to play,'' team president Matt Millen said. ``But we'll monitor him.''
Jon Kitna may not get a chance to throw to Johnson much, if at all, in the exhibition opener. But Kitna has seen enough in practice to give the 6-foot-5, 239-pound Johnson rave reviews.
``He's explosive and he's bigger than everybody on the field,'' Kitna said. ``When he gets the ball in his hands, he has a different gear and he's electrifying.''
Passing is Detroit's strength, while defending the pass is the Bengals' weak link, giving them a chance to find out how much their secondary improved over the offseason.
First-round pick Leon Hall, a former Michigan star, will get tested right away by Roy Williams, Mike Furrey and Johnson.
``They will be a good team for us to measure ourselves against,'' Hall said. ``With Williams and Johnson they have an explosive offense and it's going to be a challenge for the DBs and the whole defense.
``Johnson is obviously a big, fast and physical guy. Williams is kind of the same guy. Furrey is more of the slot receiver.''
Bengals defensive end Bryan Robinson said Kitna, a former teammate, will test Cincinnati's defense with a month to go before the real opener.
``Kit is going to get the ball out of his hand as quick as he can,'' Robinson said. ``He's smart at knowing the reads, and that's going to test us.
``They have a couple of new guys upfront. They have some new running backs with Tatum Bell and T.J. Duckett. If (Kitna) says that they can win 10-12 games, you like to believe what Kit says.''
Kitna has predicted that the Lions,who have lost an NFL-high 72 games since 2001, will at least reach double digits in wins this season.
The 10-year veteran oozes confidence, in part because Detroit didn't draft a first-round quarterback in either of the last two years to possibly replace him.
``This is what I've been waiting for my whole career, and I feel like I'm prepared,'' he said. ``It feels great as a quarterback to know you have the backing of your organization, coach and coordinator.''
Kitna didn't in Cincinnati, where he was the No. 1 QB from 2001-03 before coach Marvin Lewis gave second-year pro Carson Palmer the nod.
``It wasn't disappointing,'' Kitna insisted. ``Coach Lewis gave me an opportunity in 2003 to be the starter for the whole year, and not many people would've done that. I can't be bitter.
``Once they drafted Carson, I knew he was going to play. He's a great quarterback, and he's a great friend of mine.''
Detroit coach Rod Marinelli said starters on both sides of the ball will be used for about 10 to 12 plays before reserves take over.
Even though it's just an exhibition game, Marinelli said he wants to win.
``You come out and play marbles, and I want to take all your marbles, bag, shoes and socks,'' he said. ``I want everything you got. I'm hoping we're instilling that.''
Kitna clearly understands Marinelli's approach.
``We would like to come out and be an example for the guys that are going to play quite a bit in the second half,'' he said. ``And say, 'This is how we play football now. This isn't the Lions of the old. It's the Lions of new.'
``You can't put too much into this because it is the preseason, but we're trying to change an attitude and mind-set here.''
Cincinnati, meanwhile, is looking forward to seeing its change-of-pace running back, Kenny Irons. The second-round pick is expected to split time with Rudi Johnson. Offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski likes Irons' talent, but securing the football has been a concern.
``He's got that burst when he gets into the open field,'' Bratkowski said. ``We've got to clean up that (fumbling) part of his game.''