Nate Burleson: Johnson’s Desire To Continuously Improve Blew Me Away

After weeks, if not months, of speculation, Calvin Johnson has retired from the NFL after nine seasons.

Johnson, 30, is the most prolific receiver in Lions history and will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. A six-time Pro Bowler, Johnson holds 15 NFL records, including most receiving yards in a season (1,964), which he set in 2012.

Johnson could have played – and played at a high level – for many years to come, but he felt the time was right to walk away.

“I wasn’t too surprised,” NFL Network analyst and former Lions wideout Nate Burleson said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I kind of had a feeling that Calvin was leaning more towards walking away from the game. Towards the end of the year, I had this gut feeling that he was just tired – and I mean tired in every sense of the word. Physically, emotionally. For nine years, he put that organization on his back. He never complained, he never talked about himself, he never wanted the praise. So once the season ended and how it ended – which was all too familiar to Calvin – I thought to myself, if there is rumors, I am leaning more towards retirement. And it just so happened that he pulled it off.”

Burleson played with Johnson for four seasons.

Megatron never ceased to amaze him.

“It was the way he approached the game,” Burleson said. “We’ve seen it time and time again where athletes come in – whether they’re just gifted physically and they lean on that, whether they were already superstars and they lean on that, whether they were spoiled and given everything right out the gate and they lean on that – Calvin, he was blessed with a tool set that every receiver would die for. We know how tall he is and how big he is and how fast he is. He could jump a 44-inch vertical and run a 4.3 at 6-5, 240. Huge hands. So with all that right there, most guys would just say, ‘I’ll see how this ends up. I’ll see where my skill set will take me.’ But that wasn’t Calvin’s approach. He wanted to go in every season and try to improve. It kind of blew me away.”

In 2010, when Burleson arrived in Detroit, he asked Johnson what he wanted to do to get better. Johnson said he wanted to get bigger, faster and stronger – and he did.

Burleson couldn’t believe it.

“He’d approach practice like he was the last guy on the roster trying to make the team,” Burleson said, “to the point where coaches would say, ‘Calvin, stop diving on the ground. We need you on game day.’ But for him, there’s wasn’t a dimmer. It was on or off. So he didn’t come to practice and casually go through it, which he could have. Calvin could have casually gone through practice, been a jerk and we would have been fine with it because he was that good. But he didn’t see him like that. It’s funny because what we see as this super hero – Megatron – he didn’t see that when he looked in the mirror, which is why he worked so hard.”

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