Philadelphia Eagles News

Spadaro: No other option but to find a way without C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

This is about, as Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon says, "picking up the slack" with safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson out with what is reported to be a kidney laceration. It's what the secondary has done with cornerback Avonte Maddox on Injured Reserve. In the NFL, this is just how a season plays out: You pick up and you find answers.

In the case of the Eagles in the secondary, Gannon and his defensive coaching staff are taking this day by day, game by game. The Eagles like the way K'Von Wallace has improved his game as a reserve at both safety positions and, really, throughout the entire secondary, given all the different packages safeties are required to know. He had a big pass breakup late in Sunday night's game and is clearly coming on.

As the Eagles prepare for Sunday's challenge in the form of the Tennessee Titans, it's next-man-up-time as the Eagles slide, at least from this presumptive perspective, Reed Blankenship into a starting role after a 35-rep performance against the Packers that included an interception and a tied-for-team-high 6 total tackles.

"I want to say this: Reed had a very good game. He came in there and that's a tough spot," Gannon said. "But our guys, like, they're psychologically prepped for that to happen. What I mean by that is everyone that has a jersey on gameday, the head coach talks about roles, everyone has a role, but that can change like that (snaps fingers). So those guys that are backups right now, they prepare like they're going to be in and starting, so it's really a feather in Reed's hat. He prepared the correct way.

"It's also really good coaches. Talk about D-Will (Defensive Passing Game Coordinator/Defensive Backs Coach Dennard Wilson) and DK (Assistant Defensive Backs Coach D.K. McDonald). For a guy to come in the game like that and play winning football, plus the trickle-down effect of the different packages you have. Going into the two-minute we were saying, 'Who is playing this spot, who is playing this spot?' You always have a pair and a spare for each spot.

"Obviously, you saw they did a really good job with him because he played well and then we could solve problems with other groups that we needed to have up. And then, even then, he got nicked, I think, and K'Von comes in and has a PBU on third down in the red zone, which was a huge play. So, it's really kudos to the player and the coaches to be ready to go, but our guys know, man, your number can get called at any time and you can't be the weak link when you go in. I was proud of how that unfolded."

Blankenship has this week to prepare to be the starter, as does Wallace. They'll both get more reps in practice and they will be ready for the Titans and their powerful running game featuring Derrick Henry and a pass-action passing game that will no doubt test that position. Tennessee is no doubt studying Blankenship from Sunday night and the Titans will probe his game.

It is a fascinating chess match, the back and forth in the NFL.

"I'm going to prepare as I've prepared all season," Blankenship said after Sunday's win over Green Bay. "We always prepare like we're starting, because you never know when your number is going to be called. I'm the new guy, so I expect that when I'm out there, the offense is coming after me. I expected that tonight. It makes sense. You have to be ready. This is my job.

"I've learned that you really just have to stay in the moment and that what happens, whether it's good or bad, you learn something from it and you move to the next snap. That's what I'm doing here. Whatever role they have for me, I'll be prepared."

Said Gannon on Tuesday in his weekly media briefing, mirroring what Blankenship said: "The guy is a pro. Like, he came in here as a rookie and said, I know this is my role right now, but when I'm called upon, I need to be ready to play good football. You saw him in Training Camp. I know that the guy takes elite notes. He asks a lot of questions. He doesn't memorize or regurgitate. He understands. There is a difference between memorizing my adjustments and the defenses and understanding the why behind that.

"He's obviously very smart, like all those guys in that room are, and that's a thinking position. He is a big, physical guy that can move. Once he gets comfortable, I think the more and more he plays, the better off he'll play. I think just his want-to and his attitude of getting himself ready to play whenever he was called upon, that's what probably impressed me the most. A lot of guys (will say) I'll just wait a year, two years. It's not my year. Down the road, I'm going to be a player. No. You can't have that attitude in this league. (Head Coach) Nick (Sirianni) honestly, the culture that he sets for this whole team, it isn't that."

So, there is a lot going on for a defense that must prepare to attack – collectively, all 11, as Gannon said – the challenge of taking on Henry's 245-pound combination of speed and power and elusiveness and making sure they are airtight on the back end minus Gardner-Johnson, who has contributed 6 interceptions, great athleticism in coverage, toughness against the run, energy, and attitude to one of the best defenses in the league.

"We all have to pick up the slack and be able to function without him," Gannon said, "so that's what we'll do."

And there you have it. There is no other option.

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