The cultural shift in the NovaCare Complex since Nick Sirianni took over as head coach in 2021 has focused on a “dawg mentality.” It can be felt throughout the building with Jalen Hurts stepping into the QB1 role last year, DeVonta Smith starring as a rookie, and the drafting of Georgia players Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean. Those latter two guys might have been Bulldogs in college, but they have that “dawg” in them at the pro level.
Enter Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, the trash-talking, versatile defensive back the Birds just traded for who many teammates summed up as a “ball player.” Starting slot cornerback Avonte Maddox knows what he sees in Gardner-Johnson.
“Ceedy? He’s a dawg. I’ve seen it today,” Maddox said while speaking with reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “First day out there and getting his hand up on a pass breakup. So I’m excited to have him. Definitely a dawg out there on the back end.”
Gardner-Johnson, who set it straight that he likes to be called “C.J.” or “CeeDee,” knows that’s the mentality he brings with him to Philly.
“I’m a ball player. It’s just football. I’ve been playing it since I was six years old,” Gardner-Johnson said.
As for his quick adjustment to an Eagles team that begins their season next Sunday in Detroit, Gardner-Johnson isn’t sweating the short turnaround.
“Coaches have been A1. Players have been A1. They’ve been helpful,” Gardner-Johnson said about acclimating to his new team. “First day of practice I was out there flying around with the guys. Got some 1 reps. Got some 2 reps. Everything felt natural. Everything felt like I was back in high school, middle school again.
“I’m a football player. Throw me out there. Put me at corner, safety, nickel, linebacker. Wherever coach puts me at, I’m 110 percent.”
Team captain Darius Slay also played up the demeanor that Gardner-Johnson brings to the Eagles’ defense.
“He’s a competitor for sure,” Slay said. “I’ve been watching his film. Dude can go out there and make tackles. Dude is not scared of contact. Dude that competes every play. High energy guy, for sure. I’m looking forward to joining him, man, and seeing how we can operate. He’s got a lot of energy.”
Slay is aware of Gardner-Johnson’s vibe, as everyone on the team already seems to be. He’s not scared of contact, Slay said, and Gardner-Johnson certainly isn’t scared of getting in opponents’ faces.
“I’m more of a ‘nice’ loud. He’s more of a… ‘YEAH!’ that type of loud,” Slay joked with reporters. “He’s got a lot of swag, man. I’m more of a ‘cool’ loud guy. He’s more of a ‘letting his presence be known’ kind of guy. He’s going to bring a lot of swag to us.”
A little friendly rivalry is already brewing between Slay and Gardner-Johnson from their previous video game battles.
“He’s a big gamer. Me too. We played a lot of games,” Slay said about his relationship with Gardner-Johnson before he was traded to Philly. “We play a lot of [‘Grand Theft Auto’], ‘Call of Duty.’ We be streaming together… We’re pretty tight.”
When ask about who’s better at “Call of Duty,” Slay replied, “I was trash at first… now I’m pretty decent.”
Gardner-Johnson doesn’t quite see it that way.
“I think I can beat him in ‘Madden,'” Gardner-Johnson said. “‘Fortnite,’ I’m better than him. ‘Call of Duty,’ I’m better than him. ‘FIFA,’ I’m better than him. We just go back and forth. We’re competitors on and off the field.”
The true competition begins Week 1 in Detroit. If the Birds take care of business against the Lions and continue to meet these preseason expectations, I’m sure it won’t be long before we see Sirianni repping a Gardner-Johnson t-shirt at practice.
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