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C.J. Gardner-Johnson returns home: 'I want to finish something I started'

C.J. Gardner-Johnson reunites with Reggie.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson reunites with Reggie.

When C.J. Gardner-Johnson arrived at the NovaCare Complex on Friday morning, there was a friend waiting for him.

Reggie, the team dog, ran up to Gardner-Johnson, who picked him up and quickly reconnected with his teammate.

"I remember when we first got him as a team dog, it was a happy spot for us," Gardner-Johnson said of Reggie's arrival in the 2022 season that ended with a trip to Super Bowl LVII. "Having that teammate still here is a happy feeling."

The feeling is mutual.

Gardner-Johnson didn't get the glitzy free agent arrival in his first go-around with the team after being acquired in a trade with the New Orleans Saints at the end of Training Camp. It didn't take long for Gardner-Johnson to make himself feel at home. He moved from slot corner to safety and terrorized offenses from the back end of the defense, notching big hits and takeaways to the tune of a career-high 67 tackles and a league-best six interceptions. If he didn't miss a five-game stretch due to a kidney injury suffered while doling out a lick on Packers wide receiver Christian Watson, he surely would have been a Pro Bowl selection for the first time.

Following the season, Gardner-Johnson was a free agent and signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Lions. With a chance to hit the open market again after being a part of Detroit's historic season that nearly resulted in a trip to the Super Bowl, Gardner-Johnson yearned to return to Philadelphia to take care of some unfinished business.

"I should have never left," Gardner-Johnson said. "I want to finish something I started. I think coming here and doing things with the guys I started with, getting to a level most guys can't make it to, I think coming home and playing with a group that's ready to get back where we were and just continue to be great.

"I like being pushed when I walk through those doors, pushed to be great and held to a standard. I think that's why I'm here. I know that's why I'm here."

Gardner-Johnson cited the chemistry with his teammates, the relationships in the locker room, and the instant connection with the fans that made him miss Philadelphia.

"You can't take things for granted," Gardner-Johnson said. "I just think the people here really care, the family aspect."

How the Eagles, with a new defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio, will utilize Gardner-Johnson's varied skill set remains to be seen, but the team can count on Gardner-Johnson to deliver energy, enthusiasm, and the winning mentality that was a staple of the 2022 squad. He kept tabs on the Birds last year and sees a team and a front office "willing to do what they need to do to put the pieces back to that puzzle to get back to where we were at, and I think that's what we're doing now."

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