The Philadelphia Eagles face a unique challenge in their season opener against the Detroit Lions. They’ll be looking to get newly acquired safety CJ Gardner-Johnson on the starting lineup in just 11 days to familiarize him with the defensive scheme. Gardner-Johnson was at the Philadelphia practice field Wednesday and the season opener is Sept. 11, a week before Sunday.
According to Reuben Frank, this 11-day route only includes five days of training NBC Sports Philadelphiawho also pointed out that Gardner-Johnson would be the first Eagle to start the season opener, having been acquired this late in the preseason in about 34 years and dating back to offensive tackle Ron Heller in 1988.
Eagles say the plan is to finish Gardner-Johnson in time
Head coach Nick Sirianni exudes confidence.
“We pay [defensive coordinator] Coach [Jonathan] Gannon and [defensive passing game coordinator/defensive backs coach] Coach [Dennard] Wilson lots of money to get her job done, and CJ [Gardner-Johnson] is a smart guy,” Sirianni said in his Sept. 1 press conference. “So we’re going to power it up and get it ready to go.”
It’s worth noting that Sirianni and the Eagles staff would likely put up a smokescreen and veil of confidence even if they knew Gardner-Johnson wouldn’t be able to start so quickly simply for the Lions in their game to throw off balance. Planning. In his press conference two days earlier, Sirianni was patently hesitant about what position they intended to use their new defender in, despite most analysts predicting him as their starting safety and the team including him as a safety on the list.
“It’s our job as coaches to have a plan and we have it,” Sirianni said. “I think at this point there’s no point in talking about how we’re playing him, where we’re playing him at this point because we’re in fixture week right now.”
Assuming the Eagles use him to safety, it’ll be something of a transition since the vast majority of his NFL snaps have come at cornerback.
Still, Gardner-Johnson seems confident of updating in time to contribute immediately. “I’m a ball player, you know, it’s just football,” the 24-year-old said during his Press conference on August 31st. “I’ve been playing it since I was about six years old.”
Gardner-Johnson said he will put additional work into preparation, citing teammates and coaches who would help him along the way. “Trainer [have] was A1, player [have] Been A1, they were helpful. Like the first day of practice, I was out there flying around with the guys.”
Gardner-Johnson has experience in the security field
While Gardner-Johnson has primarily appeared as a cornerer in the NFL, the University of Florida listed him as a defensive back and his college bio notes he played it safe for the Gators in 2017.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman noted that the front office was considering Gardner-Johnson as safety for the 2019 NFL Draft. “We also classified him as a safety in college, so it’s not entirely new to him,” Roseman said during an Aug. 30 news conference. “It’s something you see more and more often in this league. You see it obviously with the two guys playing in Buffalo; You saw it when we had Malcolm [Jenkins] here in Philly.”
There’s also a lot of positional overlap in the Eagles’ defensive scheme between a safety and a slot cornerback, which was Gardner-Johnson’s role in New Orleans.
“Our coaches are working really hard to coach these guys,” head coach Nick Sirianni said in his Aug. 30 press conference. “There’s a few different things that we can do if they’re interchangeable, obviously if you ask them to play the deep half and if you ask them to play the box and if you ask them to play the deep to play third . So there are some interchangeable parts and some looks that we show for us as defenses that make us diverse.”
While this is part of defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s plan to primarily make the Eagles defense more difficult for opponents, it can also make some of the transition a little more natural for a player like Gardner-Johnson.
Either way, the old position seems to be returning quickly to the new Eagle.
“Everything felt natural, everything felt like I was back in high school or middle school, you know, just playing out there like a kid, having fun,” Gardner-Johnson said.
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https://heavy.com/sports/philadelphia-eagles/gardner-johnson-hopes-start-opener/ Eagles hope for new safety CJ Gardner-Johnson starts opener