Detroit Lions injury updates: Return window opened for edge rusher James Houston

As the Detroit Lions move toward getting some healthy defensive pieces back, the 21-day evaluation clock on edge rusher James Houston has been opened.

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Lingering hope from the team and his own optimism about being back before the playoffs led to Dan Campbell openly addressing the topic earlier this week during his weekly appearance on 97.1 The Ticket.

"There’s a good chance we start (James) Houston’s clock,” Campbell said.

Then Wednesday's practice came, and Houston was not on the field to open his 21-day return window. So if it was going to happen this week, Thursday pretty much had to be the day.

On Thursday, according to reporters on the ground in Allen Park and an announcement from the team's lead website writer, Houston was on the practice field and thus his 21-day return window has officially been opened.

Houston burst onto the scene last year as a rookie, with eight sacks over the final seven games of the season. A second-year breakout was fully derailed by his suffering a fractured ankle while covering a kick in Week 2, but his potential return is a welcome idea for a Lions' pass rush that needs help.

When will James Houston return to the lineup for the Lions?

Houston can be activated at any time now. But with his return to practice coming on Thursday, we can just about totally rule out him playing on Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys. So if he's going to get regular season action before the playoffs, which would be ideal, it will be in Week 18 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Looking out past the regular season finale, Houston's 21-day evaluation clock would expire on Jan. 18. That's between the first and second rounds of the playoffs, and of course that's the wide end of his return clock.

On other injury fronts, head coach Dan Campbell said before Thursday's practice that C.J. Gardner-Johnson's status for Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys is to be determined as they consider the roster move to activate him and how playing time will be divvied up in the secondary upon his return.

Left tackle Taylor Decker was limited on Tuesday then sat out Wednesday's practice with a groin issue, creating concern about his status on a shorter week. Campbell said simple caution was being exercised, and Decker will be fine for Saturday night against the Cowboys.

So Houston