Black and Blue all over: Johnson's health is key

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
Sometimes a player's best attribute is his name. If you're a Detroit Lions fan, and you hear that your team is working out running back Rudi Johnson -- one of the AFC's top running backs in recent years -- you naturally are going to get excited. It makes you feel like your team is serious about winning and that it won't sit pat if it believes there is a way to improve.

As recently as 2006, Rudi Johnson was a 1,300-yard runner. And even though injuries dropped his production considerably last season, he still sounds like an improvement over Tatum Bell as the primary backup to rookie Kevin Smith.

In reality, Johnson is an almost completely unknown quantity. A hamstring injury sidelined him for much of this summer, and he reportedly entered training camp at least 10 pounds heavier than the Cincinnati Bengals wanted him. He did not play in the preseason and, let's face it, at 28 -- and with 1,441 career carries -- Johnson is statistically past his prime in running back terms.

The good thing is Johnson would not be asked to carry the full load for the Lions. Smith is expected to start, and whether Bell remains with the team, the Lions also claimed a promising rookie in Marcus Thomas over the weekend.

From this vantage point, signing Johnson seems to be a low-risk, potentially high-reward move for the Lions. They are serious about running the ball this season, and if he is healthy enough to play -- something the Lions will find out Monday during a workout and physical -- Johnson could contribute to their success while mentoring Smith. Lions fans could probably live with that.

Elsewhere around the NFC North on this last day of summer (in our book):

  • Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Scott Hunter, who replaced Hall of Famer Bart Starr in 1972, empathizes with current Packer starter Aaron Rodgers, writes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

  • Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has some advice for Brett Favre: Let it go. Favre, traded to the New York Jets last month, continued his criticism of general manager Ted Thompson last week.

  • The Chicago Bears are still trying to sign free agent offensive lineman Fred Miller, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.

  • Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison will back up Pro Bowler Jared Allen this season, but he still thinks he will play enough to get 10 sacks this season, according to Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.