How can Gardner-Johnson possibly be ready by opening day?


Chauncey Gardner-Johnson has to condense an entire offseason of practices, meetings, video study and preseason games into 11 days.

Piece of cake.

“I’m a ballplayer,” Gardner-Johnson said with a big smile. “It’s just football. I’ve been playing it since I was like 6 years old.”

The Eagles acquired Gardner-Johnson from the Saints on Tuesday, and on Wednesday he was out at practice working with both the 1st and 2nd defense as the Eagles try to get him prepped in a hurry.

If all goes according to plan, the 24-year-old CJGJ will be starting at safety on opening day a week from Sunday in Detroit in place of last year’s starter, Anthony Harris, who was released on Tuesday.

This is not an easy defense to learn, and the Eagles will have five practices and a walkthrough between the day the trade was made and the day they open the regular season. 

“It’s always a challenge, but that’s why it’s a group effort,” Darius Slay said. “Coach Dennard (Wilson) will do a great job making sure he learns as best as he can as fast as he can, whenever he’s ready to go out there. 

“As teammates, we’re going to help him as well. We already told him, ‘Anything you need help with, you can come to my house, anybody’s house you need to, we can sit together and watch film.’ Our coach does a great job teaching us so we can teach him as well.”

If Johnson-Gardner does start Sunday, he’ll be the first Eagle acquired this late in the preseason to start a season opener since 1988, when they traded for Ron Heller on Aug. 23 and Heller started at right tackle in the season-opening win 11 days later in Tampa.

“It’s never easy this close to the game, but he’s a smart dude and you can see it already,” safety Marcus Epps said. “He has a high football IQ, he understands route concepts and what offenses are trying to do. 

“Today, first day, he already made a play — a PBU on the sideline, it was a really good play, showed some range. Really excited about him and what he can do. He’s going to be a good addition for our defense.”

Making this transition more challenging is a likely position switch from slot corner to safety.

Although the Eagles do have some options there — they could start Avonte Maddox at safety and let Gardner-Johnson play in his more familiar slot position for now — it’s more likely he’ll be at safety when the Eagles open the season against the Lions in Detroit on Sept. 11.

“I’m a football player,” he said. “Throw me out there. You can put me at corner, safety, nickel, linebacker. Wherever coach puts me, I’m out there 110 percent, just ready to play football and help this team win.”

Gardner-Johnson said he sensed a family atmosphere the minute he walked into the NovaCare Complex.

“Very tight-knit group and they just brought me in with open arms,” he said.

And the short period of time before the opener?

He's not concerned.

“Just getting in, staying in, putting in a little bit of overtime,” he said. “I’m new here, I’ve got 10 days before the season starts, so the coaches have been A-1, the players have been A-1. They’ve been helpful. 

“First day of practice I was out there flying around with the guys. Got some one reps, got some two reps, Everything felt natural. Felt like I was back in high school or middle school again, just out there playing like a kid, having fun.”

One of the issues in New Orleans was a contract impasse as Gardner-Johnson enters the final year of his four-year rookie contract.

He said he and Howie Roseman have already talked about his contract situation, and he promised it’s not an issue.

“Me and Howie talked, I know where we stand,” he said. “Just go out there and have fun and play football, and everything else will take care of itself. 

“I’m not worried about that. … I’m here to play football.”

Gardner-Johnson is a notorious trash talker, one of the best in the game, and Dallas Goedert knows that firsthand after facing the Saints each of the last two years.

“I’m glad he’s on our team,” Goedert said. “He’s a guy that loves ball, he’s a chippy dude. I think I’ve had a few conversations with him on the field, but I like playing against people like that. 

“He’s going to be a good fit for us. Excited to watch him be chippy against other teams now.”

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