ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Calvin Johnson had an otherworldly season for the Detroit Lions. One of his fellow receivers thinks he can be even better with a little help.
Nate Burleson, who missed much of last season with a broken leg, said finding reliable second and third options for quarterback Matthew Stafford might mean an even better season for his All-Pro teammate.
"He needs guys that can take the pressure off him," Burleson said Tuesday. "That could help his season and definitely help his health."
Johnson had 122 catches for an NFL record 1,964 yards and five touchdowns last year but showed the effects of the workload late in the season. The team will look to 11-year veteran Burleson and Ryan Broyles, who missed six games last season, to help out Johnson.
Burleson, who's starting his third season in Detroit, had 27 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns before being injured in a Week 7 loss at Chicago. The erratic behavior of Titus Young helped the Lions decide to bring Burleson back at the end of the year.
Broyles, a second-round pick in the 2012 draft, stepped in as a starter after Burleson was lost and finished with 22 catches for 300 yards and two scores. A knee injury kept him out of the final four games.
That trio bring most of the experience back. None of the other receivers on the Lions' current roster played in an NFL game last year and their number should soon shrink as the Lions continue to trim the roster to the league-mandated 53 before the season begins.
The receivers also will have to contend with an offense that favors tosses to running backs. Back Joique Bell had 52 catches in coordinator Scott Linehan's scheme last season and the number of throws to runners only should increase now that the Lions will feature free agent acquisition Reggie Bush, who's been a reliable receiver out of the backfield since his rookie season in New Orleans.
Still, Burleson knows there's plenty of opportunity for him and Broyles to reduce some of Johnson's stress, if not his workload.
"It could be really big for Calvin," he said. "My goal and Ryan's goal is to be the best support system we can for him. We want to make him as successful as we need him to be."