Skip to main content

Gardner-Johnson on his position: 'No matter where you put me, it's going to go down all game'

Relationships are important to new Detroit Lions defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

He built one many years ago with Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn when Glenn first coached him at a high school all-star camp and then again when he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints in 2019 when Glenn was the defensive backs coach there.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell was also on the Saints staff with Glenn as the assistant head coach and tight ends coach, and he also built a good relationship with Gardner-Johnson. It was those relationships established long ago that made the Lions a good fit for Gardner-Johnson to sign a one-year contract on Monday.

"The lesson (Glenn) taught me was that to become a better player over time you have to invest in your craft," Gardner-Johnson said Monday after signing. "That was the best advice I ever took from him.

"It's like a father-son relationship. When I mess up, even when I wasn't playing for him, when I messed up, I'd text him and say, 'Did you see it, or not see it?' The relationship with him just being there helping me get better every day. I remember him telling me, 'By the time I get you again, where I'm going to be at, you're going to be exactly where I need you to be.'"

View photos of new Detroit Lions defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

Where that is for both Glenn and Gardner-Johnson right now is a defensive coordinator looking to take his young defense to the next level by teaming up with one of the most versatile defensive backs in the NFL in his prime looking to prove he's one of the best in the game.

Gardner-Johnson said he loves that he's joining a young team that's hungry, and he thinks he can be one of the players to help push them over the edge. He was tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions last season while playing safety for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 25-year-old was acquired by the Eagles via trade from the New Orleans Saints in late August last year and asked to make a position switch from cornerback to safety. He finished the regular season tied for the most interceptions in the NFL despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney.

Gardner-Johnson has proven over his first four years in the league he can play anywhere in the secondary at a really high level, whether it be nickel corner, outside corner or safety. He actually refers to himself as a defensive back and not a corner or safety because of his versatility.

"I just feel like when you get the chance to do multiple things and you're not just limited to one you can really just express your football personality more," he said. "I got a chance to go play nickel, I'm going to dominate nickel. I got a chance to go play safety, I'm going to dominate safety. No matter where you put me, it's going to go down all game."

What looked like a position of weakness for the Lions just a week ago has improved significantly with the free-agent signings of veteran cornerbacks Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and most recently the versatile Gardner-Johnson.

Go behind the scenes with the Detroit Lions during 2023 free agency.

Those three join Jeff Okudah, Jerry Jacobs, Will Harris, Tracy Walker and Kerby Joseph in what's suddenly a more talented and much deeper secondary for the Lions. It will certainly be interesting to see how Glenn, defensive backs coach Brian Duker and cornerbacks coach Dre Bly sort out staring spots and depth in what now looks to be a really competitive defensive backs room.

"This team is talented," Gardner-Johnson said of his new team. "We could win the division. Everyone should feel that way. When I look at a team coming from where I came from, teams that went to the playoffs and won multiple division (titles), in playoff games and went to the Super Bowl. This team has what it takes to win the division. Get there, win the division, get to the playoffs. But it's got to start with: What's your identity? Who are you?"

That's something Gardner-Johnson said he can't wait to find out about his new team once all the players return for the offseason training program. From afar, Gardner-Johnson has been impressed with what's being built in Detroit and he's expecting big things from himself and the Lions' defense in 2023.

Related Content