An yet the only time either player has ever experienced the playoffs is following the 2011 season, when the Lions went 10-6 and earned a Wild-Card berth. They lost to the New Orleans Saints.
Last season was promising after a 6-3 start, but a 1-6 finish ended their hopes of a second playoff appearance.
That finish ushered out head coach Jim Schwartz and opened the door for Jim Caldwell and a number of new assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.
The Lions went out and sought veteran players in free agency, who not only were an upgrade from a talent standpoint, but who have also won championships in previous stops.
The coaching changes and the addition of some key pieces on both sides of the ball have both Johnson and Stafford feeling they can make a run once again at the playoffs. Maybe something greater?
“I believe this is our best chance,” Johnson said when asked if he expects to win a championship with this team. “I honestly believe that.
“You have to buy in to the coaches philosophy and we have. I believe everyone is doing exactly what the coaches want them to do, and if something is not how he wants it, he’s going to tell us, and we’re going to get better.”
Johnson said the character of this team has been the most noticeable change and that gives him the most promise.
“It's hard to go out there and settle for less when we come out here and work this hard,” Johnson said.
This is the best collection of talent the Lions have assembled on paper on both sides of the ball in quite some time. It’s a more talented roster than in 2011 when the team got off to a 5-0 start and battled its way into the playoffs during the stretch run in December.
“I think we have weapons like we did back then,” Stafford said of that 2011 team. “Defensively, I think we are talent-wise better than we were back then. We’re younger, experienced in the right spots and the right places, but you know, it’s a new year every year. There are new challenges every week.”
Stafford did admit this is the best team he’s been a part of since being selected as the No. 1 pick in 2009. He even thinks this is a team that can compete for a title.
“I think so, we’re a talented football team,” he said. “But there’s a long way to go. This is practice number two for Week 1.
"Obviously, we’re a confident bunch. We’re confident in our abilities and schemes, confident in each other but at the same time we have to go out there and execute. We have to get better week-to-week. We have to get hot and go and see what happens. On paper, we’re as talented as anybody in the league in my opinion.”
PREFERENCE TO PRACTICE
Caldwell has been very good in training camp about resting veteran players -- like Johnson -- and making sure players don’t endure too much wear and tear on their bodies now, so they can last 17 weeks and beyond.
It’s unclear how Caldwell might treat Johnson’s practice schedule during the regular season. But if it was up to Megatron, he’d practice every day.
“I’d really prefer to be out here practicing and getting the timing down,” he said.
Johnson battled through knee injuries last season and missed a lot of practice time and two games. It’s a unique balance between resting a star and making sure he feels he’s ready to perform on Sunday.
“Anytime he’s on the field and feeling good he’s obviously a threat to go,” Stafford said of Johnson. “A threat to make big plays. We use him in a bunch of different ways and he’s talented enough to understand what his role is and go out there and execute it.
“When he’s healthy… I think he’s the best. That’s going to be a key, try to keep him as healthy as we can all year and I think we’ve done a good job of that up this point.”
The Lions placed rookie linebacker