ALLEN PARK, Mich. — It’s been 45 days since Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson initially injured his right ankle late in a game against Green Bay.
He tried to play the next two weeks, mostly as a decoy, and aggravated the injury to the point that he missed the last three games.
Barring a setback, however, Johnson will be back in the lineup Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
He could be a little rusty at the start — it will have been five full weeks since he’s played in a game — but Johnson should feel fresher overall than he ever has at this point in a season because of the long layoff.
"Extremely, extremely motivated, especially with where we are as a team right now," Johnson said of his long-awaited return to game action. "It feels good to be back to almost full strength.
"Anytime you get that kind of time off, your body’s going to feel rejuvenated. Definitely fresh. It’s going to be good for me."
While conceding the ankle isn’t exactly 100 percent yet, Johnson said, "Nobody’s 100 percent right now at this point in the season. You’ve just got to deal with what you’ve got."
To the surprise of many, the first-place Lions (6-2) went undefeated without Johnson, beating Minnesota, New Orleans and Atlanta.
They also split the two games — beating the New York Jets and losing to Buffalo — in which Johnson caught only three passes for 19 yards while playing injured.
In other words, the Lions were 4-1 without Johnson playing anywhere close to his Megatron stature.
Johnson confirmed before Wednesday’s practice that he’s "back to my normal routine," and when asked if he expects to play against the Dolphins, he chuckled and said, "Yeah."
As for whether he’s concerned that he could be rusty, Johnson said, "Naw. Felt good when I was out there the other day, looked good."
In retrospect, if there’s any regret, it’s that Johnson tried to play those two games after suffering the high-ankle sprain.
"Chalk it up as a learning experience," he said. "It sucks to have injuries. It’s part of the game, though. You got to deal with it."
The way the Lions dealt with it not only made life easier on Johnson during his absence, but it also suggests that this team could be able to follow up its fast start with a rare second-half run.
For instance, coach Jim Caldwell said he believes quarterback Matthew Stafford might benefit over the long run from what he went through lately without his No. 1 weapon.
"I do believe in sometimes the advantage of disadvantage," Caldwell said. "There are some things that do help you. You adjust to them, and if you can win in those situations, I think it adds something to your repertoire.
"It makes you look at things differently. You have to go about your game slightly different. I think that’s a plus. It makes you stronger overall and adds more balance to what you’re doing."
Stafford turned to Golden Tate, who’s in his first season with the Lions, as his favorite target when Johnson was down.
Over the last five games, Tate made 39 catches for 599 yards and three touchdowns.
Putting Johnson and Tate together now should do wonders for the Lions’ offense.
"Golden has done a great job," Johnson said. "He’s in his prime. We need him to keep that up."
Caldwell added: "I think it’s going to be difficult for them (opponents) to really adjust to. Now they have two primary factors out there to deal with."
Once Johnson returns to form, he and Tate arguably will be the league’s top receiving duo.
Nobody is more excited about that possibility than Stafford, who said, "At some point we could be dangerous."
— The situation at tight end appears to be improving.
Joseph Fauria, who has missed the last five games because of an ankle injury, returned to practice Wednesday.
Eric Ebron, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, did some running on the side with a trainer, suggesting he’s getting closer to returning.
Brandon Pettigrew, however, remains out with a foot injury.
All three missed the Lions’ last game, which left Kellen Davis as the top tight end, just a few days after joining the team.
— Running back Reggie Bush (ankle) and offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle (concussion) are practicing and expected to return to the lineup after sitting out a game.