The Detroit Lions have officially activated both safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and defensive tackle Alim McNeill from the injured reserve list. Both players are now on the 53-man roster and are eligible to play in the team’s regular season finale against the Minnesota Vikings.
Gardner-Johnson returns after tearing his pectoral muscle in the Lions’ Week 2 game against the Seattle Seahawks. The veteran safety hit rehab hard and shocked coach Dan Campbell with how quick his recovery time was.
“He’s one of the X-Men,” Campbell said. “He’s got these mutant genes because he has healed extremely quickly.”
That said, it appears Gardner-Johnson will be returning with a rotational role in the Lions secondary. The recent breakout play from third-year safety Ifeatu Melifonwu has resulted in the Lions with three starter-capable safeties—second-year Kerby Joseph being the other. That has left defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn with no other choice than to play all three players.
“All three of those guys are going to play because they’re all good players,” Glenn said this week. “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.”
That development had Gardner-Johnson frustrated this week, as he believes he’s been physically ready for a while now, and should be returning to a full-time role.
“I didn’t lose my job because I had a coverage bust. I lost my job due to injury,” Gardner-Johnson said. “So respect the guys in front of me. But the vet is back.”
As for McNeill, having missed only four weeks, he is expected to hit the ground running and provide the interior of the Lions defensive line with some much-needed pass rush. Despite missing four games, McNeill still ranks second on the team in sacks (5.0) and pressures (33).
In addition to these activations, the Lions also elevated both fullback Jason Cabinda and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu from the practice squad.
This is Cabinda’s first game back since suffering an injury in Week 3. Not only will Cabinda return to his role at fullback, but he’ll also provide on special teams, and could be an emergency option at tight end with only Sam LaPorta and James Mitchell healthy this week.
Detroit has now elevated Alualu two games in a row. The veteran defensive tackle has already provided mentorship to Detroit’s young defensive line, and Glenn specifically noted how excited he was to see Alualu and McNeill play alongside each other.
“I look forward to him continuing to teach some of these guys,” Glenn said. “I mean, the thing is, I’m glad that Mac’s going to have a chance to play next to him and those guys will go out there and battle. That’s what I’m looking forward to seeing.”
The Lions also announced that tight end Anthony Firkser has been signed back to the practice squad.