Lions notes: A Pro Bowl comp for Martin’s potential; Gardner-Johnson’s role clarified

Detroit News

Allen Park — Everyone likes a good comp when trying to get a grasp on a rookie’s potential, particularly when it comes to a small-school talent you might not have heard much about prior to the draft.

On Thursday, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn offered a vision for who defensive tackle Brodric Martin could look like if the third-round pick develops as the team expects.

“It’s our job as coaches to make sure we coach them, so they can understand exactly what we’re expecting from those guys,” Glenn said. “It’s hard to find guys with that size. You know, if you look at him, and he has that little (elbow) brace on him, it kind of reminds you Linval Joseph, to be honest with you. And if (Martin) can be that, that’s damn good man.”

Physically, it’s easy to understand the comparison. Coming out of East Carolina in 2010, Joseph measured in at nearly an identical height and weight as Martin, the Western Kentucky product. And the latter has even longer arms, at 35 inches, the longest measurement of any defensive tackle prospect this season.

And yes, after a minor injury during rookie minicamp, Martin has recently been sporting an elbow brace, which has long been a Linval staple.

Joseph, a second-round draft pick the year he entered the league, put together a stellar career. His best years came during a six-season stretch with the Minnesota Vikings (2014-19), which included a pair of Pro Bowl selections. In 2022, he was picked up by Philadelphia, where he contributed to the team’s Super Bowl run.

Gibbs as a return man?

First-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs handled 44 kickoffs during his three college seasons, flashing the same electric playmaking ability he does out of the backfield, particularly during his two years at Georgia Tech.

The Lions have an opening for that role, but it’s too early to say Gibbs will be in the mix. Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp, echoing similar comments he made earlier this offseason about Jameson Williams possibly filling the role, noted it will boil down to the players’ offensive obligations.

“In terms of Gibbs, I think it’s gonna come down to his role (in the) offense and how we’re using him and all that,” Fipp said. “Obviously, as a weapon back there, he was a great college returner, Georgia Tech and Alabama, so I think that’s definitely a possibility that he does help us to some degree. What level that is — whether it’s like part-time, situationally or full-time — there’s a lot of different options there with him.”

Gibbs averaged 23.9 yards on kickoffs in college, including a 98-yard touchdown for Georgia Tech in 2021.

Running back Justin Jackson was Detroit’s primary kickoff-return man last season. He thrived in the role, averaging 26.7 yards, good for seventh in the league. He still remains a free agent after the Lions prioritized re-signing Craig Reynolds for backfield depth this offseason.

Clarity on Gardner-Johnson’s role

In his brief, four-year career, defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson has played two distinctly different defensive roles.

In New Orleans, where he was drafted and spent his first three seasons, the versatile defensive back spent the majority of his time as the team’s slot cornerback. But after being traded to the Eagles ahead of last season, Gardner-Johnson operated more as a deep safety. He thrived in that alignment, pacing the league with six interceptions, despite playing in just 12 games.

Reunited with his former position coach, Glenn, in Detroit, the plan is for Gardner-Johnson to be used similar to how he was with the Saints.

“He’s going to play nickel and safety and he can do both,” Glenn said.

The last season the two worked together, in 2020, Gardner-Johnson saw 685 of his 861 (79,6%) of his snaps in the slot, compared to just two as a free safety. During Thursday’s OTA practice, he was handling more deep safety responsibilities as Tracy Walker continues to work his way back from last year’s torn Achilles. Gardner-Johnson should shift to the slot once Walker is fully cleared.

A welcomed visitor

Lions Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson attended Wednesday’s OTA practice, as his frosty relationship with the organization thaws. Coach Dan Campbell briefly played with Johnson in Detroit in 2007 and 2008 and couldn’t say enough good things about his former teammate.

It was a short period of time when I was with him, but he was an unbelievable teammate,” Campbell said. “For a guy that is a Hall of Fame player…he was the ultimate teammate, and those don’t always go hand-in-hand.

“To have him out here, you know, there’s a level of respect that will always be there for me. But even our players, they know who he is. Anybody who has been around this game, you know, they understand the type of player he was, from a production standpoint. I wish they knew what kind of teammate he really was. I wish they had a chance to actually play with him. But it’s good to have him here. It is. It’s good. It’s good for us.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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