If they could match the player and the city and create a program that paralleled the two parties and their personalities, C.J. could. Gardner-Johnson and Philadelphia were a perfect match. On his first day at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia on Wednesday, Gardner-Johnson talked about the “passion” he brings to the football field, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win and how important it is for his Eagles family to embrace him .
It sounds a lot like the fan base is rooting for him.
The Eagles acquired Gardner-Johnson on Tuesday before the 4:00 p.m. roster cut to 53 players, and he was in practice Wednesday when he was already involved in a pass breakup and brought his trademark energy to the defensive mix. Gardner-Johnson moved quickly in and out of the press conference in the gym, aware that time is ticking between now and when the Eagles open the regular season on Sept. 11 in Detroit.
“It was fun. Nice facility. Great teammates, great coaches, great front office,” Gardner-Johnson said. “I love it. The city is beautiful. It’s a new chapter in my life. I’m a ball player. It’s just football. I’ve been playing since I was 6 years old, so just to get in, stay in it, put in a little overtime… You say , that I’m new here. I have 10 days until the season starts. The coaches were A-1, the players were A-1, they were helpful. First day of practice I was out there flying around with the guys.
“Everything felt natural. Everything felt like I was back in middle school, back in high school, out there playing like a kid.”
And the idea of him being a safety where he played in college rather than a cornerback where he played most of his time for New Orleans?
“You see more of me,” he said. “I’m a football player. You can put me anywhere.”
Gardner-Johnson cited the reception he received from the many players who approached him at the trade and the sense of “family” he felt as soon as he entered the building.
“The energy is ready. Everyone knows what is expected,” he said. “It’s a very close-knit group and they welcomed me with open arms.”
The NFL is a brotherhood, so players are really only a degree or two apart from each other no matter where they play. Tight end Dallas Goedert cited his experience with Gardner-Johnson when the Eagles played New Orleans in 2020 and 2021.
“He’s a good player. I’m glad he’s on our team,” Goedert said. “He’s a guy who loves the ball. He’s a chippy guy. I think I’ve had a few conversations with him on the pitch but I love playing against people like that. I’m glad he’s in our team. He’ll be a good fit for us and excited I am when I watch him, how easy he is now against other teams.”
Marcus Epps is suddenly the most experienced safety on the Eagles defense and is working closely with Gardner-Johnson to get the new guy up to speed. Everyone who spoke Wednesday thinks that won’t be a problem given Gardner-Johnson’s innate understanding of the game and the inner workings of the defense and how it all meshes with the offense and the way that side of the ball is run.
“It’s never easy, this close to the game, but he’s a smart guy and it shows,” Epps said. “He has a high football IQ. He understands the concepts of routes and attacks. Today, the first day, he already played, so he will be a good addition to our defense.
“I’m really impressed with him and what he can do.”