DETROIT — “Detroit hasn’t seen anything like this!” Lions defensive back CJ Gardner-Johnson yelled after an impressive defensive stop during a red zone drill.
Though it was early in his time with the Lions, so early that practices have yet to start, his message was clear, even during a mandatory minicamp in June.
“[I’m] someone who cares about the game,” Gardner-Johnson said during the Lions’ minicamp. “I mean, you guys play ball well here, not to take away, but I don’t think the guys have the fire that I have.
“Anyone in the league. At the Super Bowl you saw it, last year you saw it, the year before last you saw it, the year I got in Tom Brady’s face you saw it, so I think the passion that you see and the energy, I’m just ready to win,” he added. “I’m not trying to take a step back, so losing the Super Bowl doesn’t mean taking a step back.”
Lions coach Dan Campbell likes to refer to the offseason training period as a “slumber party” because of its low intensity, but even he noticed a new enthusiasm within the defense, particularly in the secondary, with the addition of Gardner-Johnson, who signed with the Lions as a free agent this offseason, even so early.
From OTAs to practices to mandatory minicamps, the former Philadelphia Eagles star has displayed a level of confidence that is already impacting his teammates.
“Yeah, look, he has an infectious energy. And again, just bringing it up, as long as it doesn’t affect your work and you stay focused on the job at hand, I think one of the reasons CJ is like that is because that’s how he runs his engine.” Campbell said during the mandatory minicamp on June 7. “And then, in turn, that spreads to the offense, or to your teammates, and you can’t stop the intensity level from going up.
“And I think that makes everyone around you better and more competitive because if you’re not getting to that level of intensity in practice, they’re probably going to beat you,” he added. “So that’s why I like it. And there again, I’ll bring it up again, it forces you to keep your composure too, if you’re on the opposite side of it.”
That could mean a lot to the Lions this season, as they look to improve a secondary that had a lot of problems and seemed to improve by not only signing Gardner-Johnson, but also adding veteran cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, and then drafting Brian from Alabama. Rama in the second round.
“This spring was tougher than last spring. [That] might be the best way to put it,” Lions quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell said. “There are some really good players on that side of the ball and that defense is only going to get better. With the new additions, it’s been a challenge because it’s hard to break away from those guys and it’s been a fun part of this spring facing guys that have a lot of experience and a lot of talent.”
In 2022, Detroit’s defense allowed 82 plays of 20+ yards, which was the most in the NFL, while 23% of opponents’ plays were 10+ yards, which was the second-highest rate. of the league.
The Lions defense also allowed 4,179 passing yards in 2022. Only two teams in the NFL allowed more passing yards last season: the Minnesota Vikings (4,515) and the Tennessee Titans (4,671).
Although he was in Philadelphia, Gardner-Johnson is aware of Detroit’s defensive woes last season, and it doesn’t bother him.
With his veteran presence, on the heels of a Super Bowl appearance with the Eagles, he feels he can change that narrative. It is a challenge that she has accepted.
“I saw a video on Instagram of the last time [the Lions] I went to a home playoff game that was a win and the whole crowd was freaking out, and I think some guy was crying in the stands or something,” Gardner-Johnson said. “You have to think about it, I want to bring that feeling back here.
“So, I think losing the Super Bowl and then getting to a team that’s trying to figure out winning, I think I can bring the culture by leading by example and showing them that you can change the city just by winning. So that’s why I’m here.”