His 2010 season seemingly came out of nowhere, but Stevie Johnson's ultra-productive 82-catch 1,073-yard, 10-touchdown campaign was three years in the making as he toiled away from the spotlight in Bills practices. Now that the breakout season has happened what might the encore look like in 2011?
Bills receivers coach Stan Hixon believes an even bigger year could be in store for Johnson come this fall. He also knows that when a young receiver puts up big numbers for the first time it can also create more pressure. That's why he and Johnson addressed those fat statistics from 2010 in the receiver's exit interview with his position coach at the end of last season.
"We talked about his production," Hixon told Buffalobills.com. "Obviously it was very good production, but we also think there are something that he needs to work on. From a coach's point of view both in the running game and passing game he can be a lot more consistent. He made some plays now, but as a coach my job is to be very critical to help him out."
It's beyond obvious that Johnson made some game changing plays for the Bills in 2010, but Hixon also feels that Johnson left some plays on the field.
He know his numbers could've been a lot better," said Hixon. "Overall he's headed in the right direction and he'll get better in the running game, the passing game and on some down the field routes."
Still, 10 touchdowns is 10 touchdowns and though there were probably a few more waiting to be had by Johnson last season, Hixon, and Johnson for that matter, are focused on 2011. Where Johnson has to be careful is to not get bogged down by the numbers, and convince himself it's got to be 10 touchdowns or more or it's not a successful season.
"Steve realized he took advantage of his opportunities," Hixon said. "This fall defenses might double Steve and leave someone else open so that would be the time for the other receivers to make plays. But as long as (Ryan) Fitz(patrick) can read it when Steve is in a one-on-one situation or read the zone and be on the same page he can get the same amount, more, hopefully more. The bottom line is just being productive and if it happens and there's opportunity he has to take advantage of it and make the play."
Hixon believes route running is among Johnson's greater assets, which enables him to get separation from defenders quickly despite not being a speed receiver.
"He gets a good feel for the game in terms of change of direction and running his routes and getting separation from the D-B," he said. "He knows how to push away from them or go over the top of them. He knows how to use his size. He's 6'2" and 200-plus and he uses it."
Johnson is known as a creative spirit, as evidenced by some of his end zone celebrations. He also applies that creativity to his game, and it's proven to be a good fit in a Chan Gailey scheme that has some latitude.
"One great thing about coach Chan Gailey's offense is it allows players the creativity," said Hixon. "Our main goal is beat the man. That means beat the defender and be where you're supposed to be, when you're supposed to be there and don't fool the quarterback. Those are the three basic rules. Beat the defender and you might run the same route five different ways. As long as he's at the right depth where he's supposed to be and on time then he's fine. That's the best part of the offense."
So what's realistic for Johnson in 2011 knowing he'll be the primary focus of opposing offenses this season?
"He's capable of having a great year obviously and within the framework of our offense we'll move him around a little bit more," Hixon said. "Even last year he was outside and inside. As we say the more you know the more creative he can be and hopefully it also leads to more one-on-one matchups."
And plain and simple in one-on-ones Johnson almost always wins.
"He's really good at one-on-one situations," said Hixon. "It could be a tight defender or a loose defender, but he does a good job of winning one-on-one and a good job of getting separation. He just needs a little separation. Obviously, the faster you are the better, but his ability to separate in one-on-one coverage is really, really good."
This fall Johnson is hoping to turn really, really good into great.