When C.J. Gardner-Johnson, presumably, returns to the field for the Detroit Lions this weekend, it will be just shy of four months since he suffered a torn pectoral back in Week 2. He has made a fast recovery, which he consistently teased on social media (nailing the date he would return to practice, by the way).
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn was asked about how he will deploy his safeties. Even with Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu playing as well as they are, it's naturally assumed Gardner-Johnson will be supplanting someone.
"Listen, all three of those guys (Joseph, Gardner-Johnson and Joseph) are going to play, because they’re all good players,” 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.”
On Friday, head coach Dan Campbell acknowledged Gardner-Johnson's competitive fire and how he may not like the idea of reduced playing time in his first game back. But the Lions take it slowly with players getting acclimated coming off a significant injury, and Gardner-Johnson will be no different.
Of course C.J. Gardner-Johnson is not thrilled with the idea of less playing time
Talking to reporters on Friday, via Kory Woods of MLive, Gardner-Johnson eventually landed on the expected sentiment regarding playing less than he'd like to right off the bat.
"Getting into a rotation? I’m cool with it, but I mean, how can I say this? I don’t want to sound like I’m selfish or an a**shole, but I ain’t get back early to be in a rotation,” “But I’m doing what I need to do as a team player to get my body going per se. But I’ve been ready for almost months.”
If it was up to him, Gardner-Johnson would have played in Week 16 against the Vikings after only a few practices under his belt. That he wasn't activated for Week 17 against the Cowboys was a mild surprise, but it made being activated this week all but a lock.
Ultimately, it's about having Gardner-Johnson able to make a big impact in the playoffs. However many regular season games he played upon his return was always going to be a ramp up with that in mind. Having him unhappy with being in a rotation is definitely better than the alternative, and it's absolutely not surprising that he expressed as much.