Lions general manager Brad Holmes, head coach Dan Campbell and just about anyone who has come into contact with veteran defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson has raved about his versatility. He plays nickel, he can play in the box, and if the last couple weeks of training camp practice is any indicator, he'll also be playing a lot of safety in Detroit.
Gardner-Johnson played over 400 reps last season in Philadelphia at safety, the majority of his reps last year. He's an instinctive player with terrific communication skills and a ball-hawking nature, all qualities good safeties in this league have. Gardner-Johnson tied for the NFL lead last year with 12 interceptions despite missing five games due to injury.
"Well, he's a highly instinctive player," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of Gardner-Johnson playing a lot of safety in defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn's scheme. "I think sometimes this may get lost with C.J. He's an excellent communicator as well, excellent communicator and so, you just kind of see the growth of he and Kerby (Joseph) together and I believe it's elevating Kerby's game as well, and so I believe you potentially have a couple of dynamic safeties back there that have versatility, so that's what we like about having him back there and knowing he can play nickel certainly."
Gardner-Johnson playing more safety alongside Joseph also allows Glenn to get rookie cornerback Brian Branch onto the field more in the nickel. Branch's play through the first two weeks of training camp has been one of the pleasant surprises so far. He looks like he can help this defense right away and he's already taking first-team reps at nickel with Gardner-Johnson taking first-team reps at safety.
Garner-Johnson's move to playing more safety has pushed Tracy Walker to more second-team reps, but the coaches have to look at it like they now have depth at the position with three players with some versatility to their game that complement each other well.
"Tracy's competing," Campbell said of Walker. "He's very much in this thing as well."
Getting a shoutout from the head coach in a morning press conference after a key joint practice is always a good thing for a young player. It means said player is getting noticed and with more notice usually comes more opportunity. So who stood out to Campbell in Tuesday's first joint practice?
"(Sam) LaPorta, I thought LaPorta showed up," Campbell said before practice Wednesday. "I thought (Jahmyr) Gibbs showed up. (Brian) Branch did some things. Starling (Thomas V) I saw growth. Those are the guys that really stand out to me. (Dylan) Drummond once again, out there making plays. We got a lot of young guys that I feel like are growing."
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was a guest at the final joint practice between the Lions and Giants on Wednesday.
"It was cool," Whitmer said of taking in practice. "I think everyone is so excited. While everything feels so divisive in this moment the state of Michigan is united and excited about the Lions this year.
"You can just feel the momentum. You saw the hard work pay off. They have a great team. They've been really strategic in terms of building the team and the roster and I just think it's going to be a great year and you can feel the enthusiasm as I get across the state."
View photos from Day 1 of Lions-Giants joint practice on Tuesday August 8, 2023.
A SCOUT'S EYE
Over the course of the last two days there have been a lot of scouts and front office personnel intently taking in the two sessions and probably taking some notes too
Teams have to trim rosters from 90 players to an initial 53 in a few weeks and the last two days allowed both Detroit and New York an opportunity to scout some of the bubble players on the other roster.
In 2018, defensive lineman Romeo Okwara was playing for the Giants during joint practices with the Lions where he caught the eye of Detroit's coaches and scouts with the way he played over the course of those two days. The Giants waived Okwara Sept. 4 in final cuts and the Lions claimed him Sept. 5. Okwara recorded 7.5 sacks that first season in Detroit in 2018.
Could there be some bubble players on the Giants roster that caught the Lions' attention and vice versa with Giants?
The team signed running back Devine Ozigbo and waived wide receiver Avery Davis on Wednesday.