Inside the RB room: How C.J. Anderson is mentoring Kerryon Johnson

Veteran running back C.J. Anderson has taken Kerryon Johnson under his wing since he signed with Detroit as a free agent. Duane Burleson, File/AP

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- They meet late every afternoon inside the running backs room of the Detroit Lions' practice facility. The rest of the staff and players are off doing their own things -- offensive line meetings, defensive line meetings, special-teams meetings. But these two guys have started creating something else.

It's something the veteran took from his days in Denver and carried to Carolina and Los Angeles before implementing it in Detroit with a new star-potential running back. Kerryon Johnson immediately embraced the help C.J. Anderson was offering.

Anderson was once Johnson, the hotshot running back coming off a good rookie year and seemingly destined for stardom. He got close. Along the way, every day, he had one-on-one meetings with mentors -- first Knowshon Moreno, then running backs coach Eric Studesville and even Peyton Manning. All to sit down, to learn, to ask questions.

Now Anderson -- once the pupil -- has turned into the mentor, trying to impart some of that wisdom on Johnson.

"It's more like, 'What do you feel?' Or 'What do you not know?'" Anderson said. "And then let me try to help you with what things you don't know. What me and you can do together. How to see the game. How can we talk, when I come off the field and telling you what I'm seeing, and when you come off the field you tell me. Things like that."

It's the creation of a language between Anderson, 28, and Johnson, 22. Together, they sit down and watch film for about an hour a day. They watch some of Johnson's plays from last season and some of what Anderson accomplished in Denver. They've started scouting defensive coordinators for upcoming opponents early in the season. They look for what coordinators are doing to try to slow down the run and what individual defenders might tip off or key on to give them any edge possible.

Anderson's whole plan for doing this is to try to help Johnson become the best player he can be as quickly as he can, as a way to make sure he is "just passing it down." He has good experience here. Last year, when Anderson arrived in Carolina, he took on more of a mentor role in meetings with Christian McCaffrey. Later in the season when he became a Los Angeles Ram, he and Todd Gurley had the same meetings.

"I'm more that you want to use your whole time while you're here," Anderson said. "You don't want to waste 45 minutes to an hour on your phone or on Instagram or whatever. You might as well get the work in. We're here to play football, so we might as well use the time."

Not surprisingly, neither Johnson nor Anderson would give specifics from their meetings. It's still early in the season. The meetings are still relatively new. And in a building in which everyone is concerned about giving away the slightest morsel of information, they don't want to pass along anything.

Johnson figured he would learn a lot his second year in the league. He did as a rookie, when he ran for 641 yards and three touchdowns before injuring his knee against Carolina on Nov. 18, ending his season.

"Having C.J. has helped me a lot. He's taught me a lot of different things," Johnson said. "But year in, year out, you come out here, and you learn, man. There are some real athletes in this league. We got -- what? -- Ty [Johnson], he's a sixth-round running back, and he's making plays out here like he's a first-rounder.

"There's guys that are always coming, guys that are always playing, and competition is fierce and keeps us on our toes and makes us all better."

Last year, Johnson was the new guy. This year, at least with the Lions, Anderson is. They are hoping the combination becomes a beneficial one for the Lions -- both on the field and off of it.