Star attraction: New role on UF defense fits Gardner-Johnson’s skill set

Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. [Lauren Bacho/Gainesville Sun]

There’s a lot of newness in Chauncey Gardner’s life.

There’s the new last name (Gardner-Johnson) to honor both his biological father and his stepfather. Then there’s a new head coach (Dan Mullen), new defensive coordinator (Todd Grantham), new position coach (Ron English), new defense, new position and, lastly, a new name for his new position.

That’s a lot of change. But the one constant in his Florida career is expected to remain unchanged. The Gators will be counting on him to make a whole bunch of plays this season.

Gardner-Johnson is always ready for that.

“I’ve been making plays since I’ve been here. So, making plays ain’t no big deal,” he said after Tuesday’s practice.

The only difference is Gardner-Johnson will now be making plays out of a new defense from a different position. He’s made the move from safety to nickel.

Well, actually, the position in Grantham’s defense is called star. So, now it’s official: Gardner-Johnson is a star in the Florida secondary.

It’s a position that could put him in position to possibly make more plays than ever, according to his teammates.

“I really like him there,” sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson said. “He’s real athletic and he’s smart. He’s an older dude so he kind of could just get us all together and get us on the right path. I just think it’s a great fit for him. Of course (he’s going to make more plays).”

His new position is considerably different than his old one. For one, it comes with a lot more responsibility. Gardner-Johnson is now one of the quarterbacks on defense, calling out plays and making sure everyone is lined up where they’re supposed to be.

“It’s full,” he said. “It’s a handful. Everything goes through the star. All the calls run through us, formations run through us. We’ve just got to get it in, get it out, get the D-line set, execute. That’s all it is.

“It’s just another position I’ve got to learn and get down pat.”

It’s a natural position for Gardner-Johnson, one that fits his unique skill set, Grantham said.

“You need a guy that has some stout and some strength,” Grantham said. “He can cover in the slot, he is going to set the edge on the bubble, which is more like a safety. He is a good blitzer coming off the edge. He does multiple things. He could play corner for us, but it’s a matter of getting our best 11 players on the field, it’s a matter of putting him at nickel.”

Gardner-Johnson is still in the early stages of learning his new position. He said he’s already getting a good feel for it this spring, but there is much more to the playbook than what he’s seen so far.

“Coach Grantham has put a lot of stuff into it, the scheme,” he said. “We just go through it, different styles every day. It’s spring, so everything is flowing fast. We haven’t really dove into the playbook like we wanted to. Every day we learn something new, new install, so we’re just going over stuff to make sure we get through it.”

Gardner-Johnson’s role is expected to be varied. Along with pass coverage, he also likely will spend a lot of time closer to the line of scrimmage in run support. He’ll also be involved in many of Grantham’s blitz packages, plus he’ll also be roaming the middle of the field at times.

There will be opportunities for him to make plays, something he has done throughout his career. In two seasons, he’s combined for 90 tackles, five interceptions, 10 pass breakups, 6.5 tackles for loss and one sack.

Gardner-Johnson said his new position will present many opportunities for him to make plays.

“That’s the fastest playing position on the field, in our eyes,” he said of the star position. “That, the buck and the rush, those three guys right there set the whole defense. Everyone plays off us, they feed off us. We make all the plays and we get everybody set.”


What: Annual Orange & Blue Game

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Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

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  1. Chauncey’s natural position is CB or Nickel DB. He can play S but he’s not an enforcer like a Marcell Harris. This Star position I guess is a nickel/rover DB? Chauncey is excellent at making plays & can cover. Run support is not his strong suit. Agree, he needs to improve on tackling. I think some of this talk about top ten D & winning this or that isn’t appropriate. This group of Gators needs to prove it on the field. I do think we’ll have a good D this fall, especially if the DTs & LBs improve. Looking forward to the O&B game.
    Go Gators!

  2. I still recall one Georgia running back after another running over him, by him, and around him last year for big runs and long TD runs last year. His missed tackles in that game is what demoralized the team in that game, along with the horrible QB play. But, then again, that was a ditto for almost every game last year. I do not think we will be seeing a whole lot of those repeats this coming year or those repeating will not be playing much thereafter.

  3. I don’t believe the tackle stats for a minute, unless they count piling-on after the runner is already down. I watched him avoid contact, duck and dive, and miss way too many tackles to have any confidence. He may thinks he has “been making plays since he got here”, but most of them were obviously poor plays. I think the GA backs started looking for him just so they could steamroll him for fun! He was often out of position, and was lousy in coverage, or tackling in space. It may have been a mistake for the new coaches not to have watched any of last year’s film so they would not be prejudiced against poor performance. Unless Grantham can teach this guy to deliver a hit instead of taking one, and actually make a solo tackle, this “star” will burn-out pretty quickly. But, this is a new season, so I hope I am really wrong.

  4. I got faith that Chauncey will make a big leap from last year, he’s more in tune and he’s gotten bigger within these past few months, yes he’s had problems tackling but he’s NOT SCARED to go up against anybody and so what he got ran over a few times last season, all that matters is he stopped them and that’s what coaches love about him, he doesn’t quit, he’s a savage and isn’t scared of anybody. This season is gonna be a beautiful season watch & see. #GoGators #CHOMPCHOMP