Lions must get Gardner-Johnson back on track for playoff run

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This is what happens when good players become great and fringe players become good.

This is what happens when a player falls out of rotation because of injury and tries to return to a crowded back field.

Players pop off.

C.J. Gardner Johnson wants his old spot back Sunday after spending most of the season on the injured list with a torn pectoral muscle. The problem is that Ifeatu Melifonwu is a new man playing safety. So is Kerby Joseph, who some Lions fans wanted to broom out of town.

Johnson is not the odd man out. He just won’t assume his old spot at safety or slot corner because one of the more underrated aspects of this roster has changed the dynamics. The Lions coaches develop players.

“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 (expletive), but I ain’t get back early to be in a rotation,” Gardner-Johnson said. “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.”

Lion’s defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said Joseph, Melifonwu and Gardner-Johnson could all play together or play on a rotational basis.

That’s fine for the Minnesota game, but the Lions must do everything they can to get Gardner-Johnson up to speed before the playoffs begin next week.

Gardner-Johnson is the better player. Joseph has made some nice plays, but I don’t trust him in a big spot in a big-time playoff game. If the Lions are to be the best they can be on defense, Gardner-Johnson must be on the field.

He is a Super Bowl veteran, an emotional leader. You want guys like that on the field even if he is a little rusty.

This could become an explosive situation because Gardner-Johnson is the ultimate competitor. Coach Dan Campbell is credited with amping players up to play beyond their means. Now he must figure a way to tap things down so they don’t become volatile.

“I’m comfortable saying I lost my job due to injury,” Gardner-Johnson said. “I didn’t lose my job because I had a coverage bust. I lost my job due to injury. So respect the guys in front of me. But the vet is back. So it’s on how they want to play. I’m going to give you a grace period, but after that, it’s up.”

In other words, the Lions will have a real problem on their hands.

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For more from the author Terry Foster, check him out on Twitter here: @terryfosterdet

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Original Photo Credit: © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK