Here's why the newest Detroit Lions quarterback has lasted 12 seasons

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Josh Johnson is an aberration.

In a league where the average career lasts only about three years, Johnson has bounced around the NFL for 12 seasons and on Saturday joined his 13th different team when he signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions.

So what's the key to surviving that long as a journeyman?

"My mind, I feel like is what’s allowed me to stick around this long," Johnson said Sunday. "I just try to continue to get better each year with my talent and just honing myself as a quarterback."

The Lions signed Johnson in part because of his familiarity with first-year quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan, and they've wasted little time putting his mind to the test.

Johnson worked out for the Lions on Saturday morning, and by that afternoon was taking second-team reps behind David Fales.

Dec 30, 2018; Landover, MD, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson (8) throws an interception as Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham (55) chases in the first quarter at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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Starter Matthew Stafford has been given two straight rest days of practice, and regular backup Tom Savage suffered a concussion in last week's preseason opener against the New England Patriots.

This week, the Lions travel to Houston for joint practices and an exhibition game against the Texans. If he plays well, Johnson, who played part of the 2017 season for Ryan with the Texans, has a legitimate chance to be Stafford's backup this fall.

"It’s always difficult to bring a quarterback in kind of mid-training camp," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "One of the things we try to look for is any sort of familiarity with the players we bring in. It really doesn’t matter (if) it's quarterbacks, linebackers, it could be anything that’s a communication piece, and he spent time with our quarterbacks coach down in Houston so they have a great working relationship down there."

Beyond his familiarity with Ryan, Johnson comes loaded with institutional knowledge having played for so many different teams.

Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson (8) gives directions to his team in the first quarter at Nissan Stadium Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn.

He started three games last season for Washington after signing late in the season and had previous stops with the Texans, Giants, Bills, Colts, 49ers, Bengals, Browns, Buccaneers, Jets, Ravens and Raiders.

He also played briefly for the Sacramento Mountain Lions of the United Football League, and was on the roster of the San Diego Fleet of the Alliance of American Football earlier this spring.

Johnson said his first order of business when joining a new team is finding familiarity with his new offense.

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"So at least when you go out on the field you can go out there and just get the offense going, get the tempo going so we can execute practice," he said. "And just continue to learn every day. Teammates, all the details. Just iron out the details consistently, which you miss that when you’re not here in the offseason."

Johnson was passed over as an NFL free agent after undergoing ankle surgery in March.

He said he had no idea about Savage's injury until his agent called to let him know the Lions wanted to bring him in for a workout, and called the day-to-day waiting for an opportunity "stressful" even after all his years bouncing around.

Tom Savage suffered a concussion Thursday against the Patriots, opening an opportunity for Josh Johnson in Detroit.

"We’re human, too," Johnson said. "It’s like anybody sitting around waiting for a job, and especially for limited opportunities so you just got to do what you can to stay ready, stay focused, stay mentally in it. Whatever it takes to get you ready to go and (stay) mentally sharp because the opportunity can come at any moment and you got to be ready for it."

Johnson has played with several Lions in his previous stops, including Savage in Houston and Devon Kennard, Damon Harrison, Romeo Okwara and Andrew Adams with the Giants.

Adams said Johnson is a consummate pro, and Johnson said he's looking forward to proving as much in Detroit.

"Head’s been swimming but I’ve been enjoying it," Johnson said. "This is an opporutnity where you can iron out all the details so you can get out there next week and start playing fast."

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Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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