I had the unique opportunity to interview several members of the NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles prior to the Super Bowl. Among them was C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions this season, despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney. Gardner-Johnson was acquired from the New Orleans Saints via trade along with a seventh-round draft pick in exchange for a 2023 fifth-round selection and a 2024 sixth-rounder. The Eagles clearly won the trade, as Gardner-Johnson became an integral component of the Eagles’ defense. His absence was felt while he recovered from his injury, and the Eagles are expected to make a strong push to bring him back in 2023.
Q: We know the value you bring to the Eagles, leading the team in interceptions…
A: [Points to defensive backs coach Dennard Wilson] It was him, that’s why. He’s the reason. Best coach. Best secondary coach in the world.
Wilson is now being considered as a replacement for Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who became the Head Coach of the Arizona Cardinals earlier this week. When interviewed by Sports Illustrated, Wilson spoke glowingly of Gardner-Johnson:
“When we acquired him, the first conversation I had with him was, ‘CJ, you’re coming here and you’re going to have fit in and you’re going to have to earn your keep, but still be who you are as a person and still be who you are as a player, but it’s about the team, it’s about the unity, it’s about the chemistry we have to create together to be able to play as one. It took him a while to get it, but once he figured it out, he started to prosper. His teammates love him, I think he’s maturing on and off the field. For me as a coach, he’s been a joy to have and just seeing his progression not only as a football player but as a man.”
Q: So, he helped you raise your game? Whole new ballgame in Philadelphia from New Orleans?
A: Yup! Definitely. Yes sir!
Q: That was one of the questions I was going to ask you: “who helped you raise your game?” So who on the other side of the ball helped you raise your game this season?
A: Jalen. When I can see what he’s looking at and…what he’s thinking, I can see what other quarterbacks are thinking. He’s a top quarterback, so he shouldn’t be thinking too far off; he’s seeing the same coverages. So, when I understand what he’s seeing, it helps me get better when we go up against each other in practice.
Q: Talk to me about your personal journey. At what point did you first start dreaming about playing in the Super Bowl as a little kid. How old were you?
A: When I first started playing football and understood what a Super Bowl was.
Q: No one ever achieves anything great without going through some kind of adversity. What experience comes to mind that has made you better and stronger as a player and as a person?
A: I’ve been doubted my whole life. I went in the fourth round, I was underrated coming out of high school, never really won [anything] in high school, so I feel like just being the underdog and doubted my whole life made me keep going, and made me who I am today.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)