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With C.J. Gardner-Johnson back, Detroit Lions will play top 3 safeties

C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Ifeatu Melifonwu, and Kerby Joseph are all expected to get significant playing time now that everyone is healthy.

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

One of the biggest questions facing the Detroit Lions as they enter the postseason is what they will do with their secondary. There are questions at outside cornerback, but the more fascinating discussion surrounds the safety position.

Over the past month, Ifeatu Melifonwu has taken the defense by storm. The 2021 third-round pick replaced Tracy Walker in the starting lineup and has run with the opportunity. In four starts, Melifonwu already has 3.0 sacks, five passes defended, two interceptions and 21 tackles. He was recently named NFC Defensive Player of the Week after nabbing the NFC North title-sealing interception against the Vikings, and former NFL cornerback Jason McCourty believes he’s currently a top-five defensive back in football.

“He’s starting to really understand that position in totality,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said this week. “So, not only is he understanding from a backend perspective, but he also understands where he fits in the paint, also.”

But complicating this is the fact that C.J. Gardner-Johnson is set to return from his torn pectoral muscle. The veteran defensive back returned to practice two weeks ago and is expected to play in the regular season finale against the Vikings this week.

With Kerby Joseph steadily holding down the other safety spot, who will the Lions bench to make room for Gardner-Johnson, a game-changing force who led the league in interceptions?

According to Glenn... nobody. The plan is to play all three players moving forward.

“All three of those guys are going to play because they’re all good players,” Glenn said. “And the one thing that we try to do as a defense is make sure we have our best players out on the field. Will they all three be on the field at the same time? Possibly. Will somebody be down? Possibly. But they’re all going to play and you’ll see that.”

With Gardner-Johnson now listed as a “full participant” at practice, it appears we’ll get our first look at what that looks like this Sunday against the Vikings.

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