Seven years. Six NFL teams and one in the Alliance of American Football League. Charles Johnson is only 30 years old, but he’s seen a lot in his football career. Enough to know, certainly, that nothing comes easily, nothing is given, and everything is earned.
It’s all about one day at a time.
That’s the approach Johnson is taking with the Eagles, who signed Johnson early in the spring with the idea that he would add depth and competition to a wide receiver room that was a priority to overhaul in the offseason. That’s exactly what the Eagles have done by trading for DeSean Jackson and drafting J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to go along with holdovers Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Shelton Gibson.
Johnson, taking his share of reps and playing well throughout the Organized Team Activities, just wants to find his niche on the roster.
“I think I’ve played well,” Johnson said on Wednesday after the OTA practice at the NovaCare Complex. “I pride myself on being a student of the game. I’m learning the system and I think I’m making good progress. I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made. I know I have a lot more to learn, I have chemistry to continue to build, but all in all, it’s been a good experience.
“I have been around this league long enough to know that you never take anything for granted. You don’t know that you’re going to be around tomorrow, so you have to make the most of each day.”
Johnson has been doing that in the crowded and very talented wide receiver room. A seventh-round draft pick by Green Bay in 2013, Johnson was cut and lived for a minute on the Packers’ practice squad that season before the Browns came calling. Around the same time, Johnson had some injury problems that wrecked his time in Cleveland and then, after a promising 31-catch, 475-yard 2014 season in Minnesota, really took their toll on his career.
From Minnesota, Johnson signed with Carolina and suffered a serious knee injury. Lost season. In the spring of 2018, he signed with the Jets and lasted until late August before he was released as the Jets reduced their roster to 53 players.
A half-season stint in the AAF was exactly the tonic Johnson needed to knock off the rust and get into game shape. He’s been consistent and productive in this spring with the Eagles. Next week’s mandatory minicamp and the Training Camp to follow, along with the preseason are, obviously, crucial to Johnson’s chances of survival here.
He’s 30 years old, suddenly, and by NFL standards he’s no kid any longer. Johnson can still run, he’s got size at 6-2 and 217 pounds.
Johnson is prepared to compete for NFL survival.
“I’ve been around a lot of guys and I’ve learned a lot in my career,” he said. “I will still run with anyone and I know how to do the little things to get open. I’m happy to take what I’ve learned and spread it to the younger guys and help them with their technique.
“At the end of the day, I’m here to win a job. I know I have to win every day. I still feel young. I feel I can compete with anybody. My mindset is that nobody is going to beat me in a race, and nobody is going to be more explosive. I have to feel that way. I know how this league works. I know that nobody is going to give me a roster spot. I have to earn it.”
There are still hundreds of practice reps and four preseason games ahead to determine the roster positions at wide receiver. The Eagles are stacked at the position with Jeffery, Jackson, and Agholor as the top three receivers and Arcega-Whiteside the presumptive favorite for the No. 4 spot. Mack Hollins expects to figure into the mix in camp, along with Gibson and Greg Ward, Jr. and a handful of young, talented players.
Nothing is final. Not yet. Johnson knows the world of day-to-day living.
“It can be stressful, but I don’t look at it that way,” he said. “I love football and I love to compete. I’m in the right place, with the right team. We have a great vibe here. Everyone is pushing each other to be the best player we can be. So, I’m excited about that. I’m excited to see how it all plays out in the summer.”