It’s no secret that Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson have a relationship that dates back to their time together with the New Orleans Saints. Throughout this season, both have professed their admiration and trust for one another, but as with any relationship, there can be disagreements. In this case, it’s regarding the latter’s playing time.

Lions Offense Has Been Roaring This Season

Gardner-Johnson, who now goes by Ceedy Duce, has been out of action since Week 2 with a torn pectoral muscle that he suffered in a loss against the Seattle Seahawks. While he’s expected to see time on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, it won’t be the typical snap count he’s accustomed to when playing at full strength.On Friday, Campbell spoke to reporters about Duce’s limited role, as he’ll be a part of a three-man rotation at safety along with Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu, the third-year defensive back that’s stepped up in recent weeks since his absence. Duce vocalized that he’s thrilled to see his teammates step up and contribute to the Lions’ success. At the same time, he was clear that a diminished role doesn’t sit well with him.

“Getting into a rotation? I’m cool with it, but I mean, how can I say this? I don’t want to sound like I’m selfish or an (expletive), but I ain’t get back early to be in a rotation,” Duce said. “But I’m doing what I need to do as a team player to get my body going per se. But I’ve been ready for almost months.”

If it were up to Duce, he said he would’ve suited up two weeks ago when the Lions played the Vikings at US Bank Stadium in Week 16. However, as it is known, the decision was out of his hands. With the Lions monitoring Duce’s minutes and throwing him into the rotation, it’s safe to surmise he won’t be getting the nod at starter on Sunday ahead of Melifonwu or Joseph.

Based on the circumstances, Duce, who tied for the most interceptions in the NFL last season, is fine with it for now at least.

“I’m comfortable saying I lost my job due to injury,” Duce said. “I didn’t lose my job because I had a coverage bust. I lost my job due to injury. So respect (to) the guys in front of me. But the vet is back. The vet (is) back. So it’s on how they want to play. I’m going to give you a grace period, but after that, it’s up.”

“I’m going to lead these guys to a championship if I can. And the ones that ain’t never been to one or been able to make the playoffs, get behind me. I can show you.”

Duce is not lying in this regard. In addition to being on the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl team last year, there’s only been one year in his career (2021) that he hasn’t been on a team that’s won a division title.

With Duce out of action, Melifonwu and Joseph have stepped up for the Lions in a big way.

Melifonwu got the nod at starter during Week 14 against the Chicago Bears, and since that time, he’s registered 21 total tackles — three for loss –, five pass deflections, four QB hits, and two interceptions, one of which sealed the game during Week 16 against the Vikings. As for Joseph, in 14 games, he’s totaled 77 combined tackles, 11 pass deflections, and four interceptions.
“I commend my young safeties because they need to go through this,” Duce said. “They got to go through something they never experienced. So for them to have this hot streak, it is cool. It’s good. Because now, it gives them more of an edge over the opponent because they’ve never seen it before. And now as you’ve seen it and you bring somebody who’s been doing it, it’s kind of hard to stop.”

But with Duce’s praise came another double-down moment about where he feels his place in the Lions’ defensive scheme is, stating how valuable his experience will be once the postseason starts next week.

“You can’t get complacent on how they played because you’ve got to think, they ain’t won nothing. A wise man told me you can’t get complacent with the regular season because regular season don’t win (expletive).”

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