New Detroit Lions defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson forced an incompletion Tuesday in a red-zone drill against the offense at Detroit's mandatory minicamp in Allen Park and as he was walking back to the sideline, he glanced over to some media members standing close by and yelled something to the effect of ... Detroit's about to see something special from its secondary it hasn't ever seen.
It's a pretty bold statement by Gardner-Johnson, but he certainly doesn't lack confidence, and he's brought an infectious energy to the secondary since signing a one-year deal in free agency this offseason.
"I don't think guys have a fire that I have," Gardner-Johnson said Thursday. "In the Super Bowl you seen it. Last year you seen it. Year before last year you seen it. The year I got in Tom Brady's face you seen it. I think the passion that you guys see and the energy – I'm just ready to win. I'm not trying to take no steps off."
Lions general manager Brad Holmes spent considerable resources revamping Detroit's secondary this offseason by also bringing in cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley and selecting defensive back Brian Branch in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Those additions, along with the return of Tracy Walker, Kerby Joseph and Jerry Jacobs, three players that bring their own brand of swagger to that room, there's a much different attitude and energy in the Detroit secondary this year, and Gardner-Johnson appears to be the ring leader.
It's a collective group that competes and has fun, and it's been noticeable to everyone who's watched the last three days that the secondary is much improved from a year ago.
Gardner-Johnson said he saw a video on Instagram after signing with Detroit of the last home playoff win in 1991, and the crowd was going crazy and people were crying in the stands.
"I want to bring that feeling back here," he said. "So, I think losing in the Super Bowl and coming to a team that's trying to understand winning I can bring a (certain) culture with me and lead by example. You can change a city by just winning."
Gardner-Johnson finished tied for the NFL lead last year with six interceptions and he's going to play both safety and nickel corner in Aaron Glenn's defense. Opposing passers had just a 78.4 rating when throwing at him last season.
View photos from Day 3 of Detroit Lions minicamp on Thursday, June 8, 2023 in Allen Park, Mich.
"C.J. opens his mouth?" Lions head coach Dan Campbell joked this week when asked about Gardner-Johnson's energy at practice. "Yeah look, he's got a contagious energy. And there again, I just bring it up, as long as it's not affecting your job, and you stay focused on the job at hand, I think one of the reasons C.J. is that way is because that's how he gets his engine going.
"And so in turn, that just spills out into the offense, or your teammates and you can't help the level of intensity just, it raises. And I think that makes everybody around you better and more competitive because if you're not reaching that level of intensity in practice, you're probably going to get beat. So that's kind of why I like it. And there again, I'll just bring it up again, it forces you to keep your composure too, if you're on the opposite side of that."
Gardner-Johnson said the chemistry is building and will continue to build among Detroit's secondary in training camp. He likes where things are headed but knows more work needs to be put in.
"Coming here you just see a young team that has a lot of veteran presence now that's ready to lead them," he said. "I think all of us are just feeding off each other and seeing what we have is something that's very impressive."