The Detroit Lions are headed for a crunch to create roster spots, as some notable players near returns from injury. C.J. Gardner-Johnson started his 21-day return window from a Week 2 torn pectoral last week. Defensive tackle Alim McNeill (knee) could return as soon as Week 18, and edge rusher James Houston (fractured ankle) has stated his goal to return before the playoffs.
Head coach Dan Campbell pointed to late December as a possibility for Houston's return. He has been more general about McNeill, but his knee issue is not considered a season-ender.
During his Tuesday interview on 97.1 The Ticket, Campbell talked about a range of topics (winning the NFC North, owner Sheila Hamp, etc.). But, in what might usually be reserved for a press conference, he offered some injury updates.
Dan Campbell offers injury updates on James Houston, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Alim McNeill
Campbell had a broad update on the aforementioned three players.
"I would tell you they're all improving," "It's really about -- like today's a walkthrough. They're going to get some work this morning. Move around. We'll see where they're at."
Then, Campbell got a little more specific for each guy.
"Look, C.J.'s close." Campbell said. "He is close, but we got to decide what we're going to do there and just how close is close."
Gardner-Johnson returned to practice last Wednesday, so he was never very likely to play in Week 16 against the Vikings. With Ifeatu Melifonwu's emergence, there's not a need to rush Gardner-Johnson and the Lions tend to slow-play player's returning from significant injuries. Still, if Gardner-Johnson is not in uniform in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys it would be surprising.
"There’s a good chance we start Houston’s clock,” Campbell said.
That seems pretty clear. Houston is in line to be back on the practice field this week. With Tuesday being a walkthrough on a short week, Wednesday would be the likely day.
During his press conference later on Tuesday, Campbell clarified (and backtracked a bit on) his initial comment regarding Houston.
"And there again, Mack (Alim McNeill) continues to get better." Campbell said. "But, this is going to be one of those that it's going to take a few days here to decide exactly where we're at.”
A fairly vague "continues to get better" update from Campbell regarding McNeill, as the third-year defensive tackle nears the last of the minimum four games he'll have to miss on IR.
In a broad sense, the Lions could add three very talented pieces to their defense just in time for the playoffs. Even or two of them would be nice.