C.J. Gardner-Johnson was traded to the Eagles from the Saints on Aug. 30. The deal was met with skepticism in Philadelphia because the new guy was going to switch positions from cornerback to safety, where the Eagles needed help.
That same day, the Eagles released veteran safety Anthony Harris, a player who started 15 games the year before.
The media peppered Eagles coaches and general manager Howie Roseman about the new “safety.”
Legit questions were asked — Journalism 101 stuff — about a new player the Eagles hoped could fill a need.
The consensus answer from the Eagles was simple: Gardner-Johnson had played some nickel back and the switch to safety, in the Eagles’ system, wasn’t such a huge change.
From an Aug. 30 news conference with Roseman and Nick Sirianni, here is the media stepping to the plate:
- Howie, how did the trade come down with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and how do you project his role in this defense?
- Where does he fit in schematically and how do you reconcile the time in the slot versus — it sounds like he’s going to play safety – how can he fit in?
- What is it about defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s system that allows slot corners to play safety and vice versa?
- What’s the plan for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the short-term because he hasn’t been practicing much; are you comfortable that he’ll be ready for Week One?
From a Sept. 1 news conference with Sirianni:
- How do you get C.J. Gardner-Johnson ramped up? Is it possible in that sort of time frame to get him ready to play for Week One?
From a Sept. 6 news conference with Gannon, five days before the season opener:
- How do you go about acclimating C.J. Gardner-Johnson to the defense and getting him ready?
- What was it about C.J. Gardner-Johnson that made you think that he could play the safety?
- As far as C.J. Gardner-Johnson integrating into the defense, learning the new defense, how quickly can he learn something like this coming from a totally different system in such a short amount of time?
- Earlier you mentioned when C.J. Gardner-Johnson is ready, he’ll play. Is there a chance he’s not ready, and is there a chance you’ll have to limit his role based on a certain amount of time?
Well, Gardner-Johnson has proven he was ready and integrated and learning and ramped up and fitting in schematically.
He has answered all of the questions with his play for the 8-0 Eagles, who are ranked fourth in the NFL in pass defense and tied for third in total defense.
Gardner-Johnson has a league-leading five interceptions including a diving pick in the third quarter against the Texans that Sirianni said turned much-needed momentum toward the Eagles.
The Eagles scored two plays later to take a 21-14 lead en route to a 29-17 victory.
- “He’s got some great hands,” cornerback James Bradberry said about Gardner-Johnson.
- “He just went out there and caught some balls that were tough to catch. Our front seven has been playing really well and even on that interception we got some pressure by the front seven …
- “It was a bad throw [by Houston quarterback Davis Mills]. He just threw it up in the air. But C.J. made a good play on it.”
Gardner-Johnson has an interception in four straight games, which an Eagle hasn’t done since Bill Bradley in 1972.
The Eagles lead the NFL in turnover differential by a country mile. They have 12 interceptions and six fumble recoveries. They have turned over the ball three times, for a plus-15 differential.
The Ravens and Cowboys also have played eight games and are tied for second at plus-6. The Vikings have played seven games and are a plus-6.
- “I think it’s just about the way we practice and it’s something that the coaches emphasize,” safety Marcus Epps said.
- “One thing I know about us as a team: We come to practice, we come to work every day and I feel that’s carrying over to the game.”
The Eagles have won the turnover battle in each of the first eight games, the first time that has happened since the 1972 Steelers, according to @ESPNStatsInfo.
- “I think our front seven has been playing really well,” said Bradberry, who had a pick in the fourth quarter against Houston.
- “Some of it’s been overthrows and tipped balls. You definitely gotta catch those … We’ve been playing situational football, just executing at a high level.”
Gardner-Johnson, 24, has played 507 defensive snaps — 96.3 percent. He is 5-foot-11, 210 pounds, a 2019 fourth-round pick from Florida.
Epps, who has played 100 percent of the snaps, has seen up close what Gardner-Johnson has done.
- “He’s playing amazing and the greatest thing is, he’s just getting better each week in terms of being comfortable out there at safety and in the defense,” Epps said.
- “He’s making really big plays for us but that’s just who he is. He’s a playmaker, so it’s been real good to have him here.”