Lions Rumors: Detroit Faces Worst-Case Scenario on C.J. Gardner-Johnson

C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Getty C.J. Gardner-Johnson celebrates during a Detroit Lions game.

The Detroit Lions brought in former Philadelphia Eagles safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson this offseason with the hope of turning around their defense, but now the veteran could be lost for the season after just two games and a rookie forced into a more prominent role.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reported on September 18 that the Lions safety suffered what is believed to be a torn pectoral muscle in the team’s 37-31 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

“#Lions DB CJ Gardner-Johnson is feared to have suffered a a torn pec in Sunday’s game, sources tell me and @MikeGarafolo,” Rapoport wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “The playmaker had been a big part of Detroit’s defense. Now out indefinitely, potentially for the season.”

If the worst-case scenario turns out to be true, the Lions could have to rely on rookie defensive back Brian Branch pick up some of the slack.

Lions Face Crunch in the Secondary

Gardner-Johnson assumed a leadership role on the Detroit defense almost immediately after joining the Lions, earning some praise from head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

“(He’s) very energetic. Knows what he’s doing. Does not stand for someone playing at a level to where it’s not winning. I mean that really stands out with this player,” Glenn told the Detroit Free Press before the season started.

Gardner-Johnson’s injury was not apparent during the game, as he left the game briefly during the opening drive but returned two plays later after medical staff examined his arm. He finished the game with eight tackles, tied for the team lead.

As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press noted, the Lions may need to turn to a rookie to fill Gardner-Johnson’s role on the outside.

“Tracy Walker is next in line to replace Gardner-Johnson at safety, with rookie Brian Branch staying at slot cornerback,” Birkett wrote.

The former Alabama safety earned some praise before the NFL Draft, with a pro scout praising his versatility.

“Brian Branch has the instincts you look for at the position, and all kinds of versatility,” the coach told Heavy’s Matt Lombardo. “Love that you can line him up at safety or in nickel.”

Branch may need a quick learning curve as he steps into a bigger role in Gardner-Johnson’s indefinite absence. The Lions have given up 28.5 points per game through the first two games of the season.

Lions Hit Hard by Injuries

Gardner-Johnson was one of a number of Lions players to suffer significant injuries both before and during their loss to the Seahawks. Defensive lineman Josh Paschal was hurt in practice on Thursday and later placed on injured reserve, and three other key players suffered major injuries during the game against the Seahawks.

“Outside linebacker James Houston fractured his fibula covering a kickoff and will go on injured reserve this week,” Birkett wrote. “Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai injured his left knee in Sunday’s second half and is expected to miss multiple games. And running back David Montgomery suffered a thigh bruise and told the Free Press the injury could take ‘a couple weeks’ to heal.”

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