After a nice rookie season last year, Kerby Joseph leads the Detroit Lions in interceptions this season with four. Ifeatu Melifonwu has started the last four games alongside Joseph, making impactful plays seemingly every week and winning NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 16.
This week, C.J. Gardner-Johnson is in line to return to action after being sidelined by a torn pectoral since Week 2. He will surely be ready to get back on the field, and want to play a full compliment of snaps immediately.
On Friday, via SI.com, head coach Dan Campbell acknowledged how Gardner-Johnson may not be happy with his immediate role.
" First of all, Ducey's a competitor. He wants to play and he wants to play every snap. I appreciate that and I think we all do. But I think between myself and A.G., when those come up and all that, we're very direct. We tell it from the get-go and here's why..."He wants to play, he wants to be a part of it. Doesn't mean that he has to like it, but when he's on the field he's gonna give what he's got. That's the most important thing. I think as long as we're all open and direct with each other, they know where we're coming from and we know where they're coming from it, you don't have to like it but you do have to respect it."
The Lions are very cautious with players coming back from a significant injury. Gardner-Johnson will be no different, and as Campbell noted open communication about his playing time will be key.
Aaron Glenn outlines plan for safety rotation when C.J. Gardner-Johnson is back in the lineup
During his media availability on Thursday, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was naturally asked about how room will be made for Gardner-Johnson to play at safety. Someone will be benched, right?
Via Kyle Meinke of MLive:
"Listen, all three of those guys (Joseph, Gardner-Johnson and Joseph) are going to play, because they’re all good players,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “One thing we try to do as a defense is make sure we have our best players out on the field. Will all three of them be on the field at the same time? Possibly. Will someone be down? Possibly. But they’re all going to play, and you’ll see that.”
Gardner-Johnson offers versatility to play in the slot. Melinfonwu played cornerback in college as well as during his first NFL season in 2021, and he has practically been an extra linebacker at times with his recent prowess as a blitzer. There's no denying, as long as Gardner-Johnson is up to speed and ready to go, that the safety trio would be three of the Lions' four or five best defensive backs.
Having to find playing time for Joseph, Melifonwu and Gardner-Johnson qualifies as a good problem for the Lions and Glenn to have heading toward the playoffs. What that will look like, at least to some extent, seems to be coming Sunday against the Vikings.