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Detroit Lions hopeful C.J. Gardner-Johnson, James Houston can return in 2023

Despite serious injuries and trips to injured reserve, the Detroit Lions are hopeful both C.J. Gardner-Johnson and James Houston may return before the 2023 season is over.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Ryan Garza / USA TODAY NETWORK

Earlier in the week, the Detroit Lions officially placed edge defender James Houston and cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson on injured reserve. By rule, both players must miss the next four games, but with both, the expectation is they’ll be out much longer than that. Houston has a reported ankle fracture that could hold him out for at least two months. Gardner-Johnson has a torn pectoral that could cost him the entire season.

That said, Lions coach Dan Campbell noted on Wednesday that it’s entirely possible both players return to play before the 2023 season is done. Gardner-Johnson is scheduled to have surgery, but Campbell noted that the nature of his injury should bode well for his post-op rehab.

“The reports that we’ve gotten back on it is that it was a very clean injury and that’s normally good for surgery, recovery, all of those things,” Campbell said. “So I certainly think there’s a chance that we get him back.”

In the meantime, the Lions will promote Tracy Walker to the starting roster. The Lions’ former third-round pick has been a starter for Detroit in the previous four seasons, but a torn Achilles forced him to miss almost all of his 2022 season. Now back at full strength, Campbell is confident in his ability to step up.

“Having a guy like Tracy, who’s got time on task, somebody we’ve got a lot of faith in, trust in, that alleviates a lot of pressure and stress for us because we know he’s game ready, he’s been in it,” Campbell said. “He hasn’t batted one eye at it. He just goes to work and he does anything we ask him to do.”

Campbell said Houston’s timeline is similar to that of Gardner-Johnson.

“He may be very similar to (Gardner-Johnson) Ducey,” Campbell said. “Could be end of the year potentially, but there again, I can’t – I don’t want to sit here and tell you, ‘Yes,’ and then we don’t get him back. But I do think there’s a chance by the end of the year we could get him back.”

While Houston had a smaller role on defense, his skillset may be more difficult to replace with the Lions’ current roster. Houston has unique, pure pass rushing skills that nobody else on the roster can mimic. That said, both John Cominsky and Romeo Okwara saw elevated roles last week against the Seahawks. Additionally, in Week 5 Julian Okwara is eligible to return after being placed on IR to start the season.

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