Lane Johnson’s PED-based comeuppance comes at a bad time for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was a part of a vastly improved unit that was the only group to start all 16 games in 2014. Johnson was often picked on last year by defensive coordinators and forced to block their primary pass-rusher. Despite the challenge, he flourished in Chip Kelly’s fast-paced system and assisted in anchoring one of the fastest and highest-scoring offenses in the NFL.
However, if the Eagles had to lose one player to suspension, Johnson is the only player they can afford to lose, even if it is only temporary.
This does not label him as inadequate or a scrub; it means that he is in a position that is filled with depth. Right tackle isn’t even Johnson’s natural position — the University of Oklahoma product has started only 28 games in his career at right tackle. He was drafted for his athleticism, not necessarily technique. Johnson played everywhere from defensive end, tight end and even quarterback during his college career.
In his entire tenure at OU, Johnson has only started 41 games total as an offensive lineman.
There are plenty of other options at right tackle. Why else do you think Andy Reid drafted so many linemen? The offensive line is full of multi-positional players. Dennis Kelly fits as a fill-in, if he can regain health before the season starts. Todd Herremans also played right tackle from 2011-13. The team can also take the ironic route and use Allen Barbare, who also was suspended for PED use in 2012 as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.
Fans will barely even notice the change, as Johnson was merely one of the links on the chain last year. Jason Kelce was the shank of the anchor, Jason Peters was the crown, Herremans was the stock, and Evan Mathis was the eye. After the group synchronized mid-season, Johnson merely followed their wake.
Granted, the birds have a rough first quarter of the season ahead of them on their schedule, especially for the lineman. They square off against Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo of the Washington Redskins in Week 1, but they are returning from injury.
In Week 4, they face a fearsome, albeit hindered front seven of the San Francisco 49ers. Aldon Smith may likely be suspended after some off-the-field issues, while Navarro Bowman enters the season with a restructured ACL, which will likely stymie his ability. The only concern there is Ahmad Brooks, who earned his first Pro Bowl bid in 2013.
The other two teams that the birds play in their first year will be the Jacksonville Jaguars and Indianapolis Colts. The Jaguars’ defense is too inferior to even mention. The Colts, aside from Robert Mathis, have no other semblance of a pass rush. Mathis may likely line up against Johnson’s replacement, but the Eagles still have a pair of talented blocking tight ends in Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, who will likely act as sixth, and possibly seventh, linemen in certain scenarios.
Fans should also consider that they have the self-proclaimed “best running back in the NFL” in LeSean McCoy. Johnson’s absence may hinder the team’s ability to run stretches, tosses and counters, which require a fast-footed tackle. However, it took more than one lineman to orchestrate the top-ranked ground attack in 2013. Taking away one singer in a quintet does not ruin the symphony. The Eagles also want to take some of the pressure off of Nick Foles, which requires a more ground-oriented offense this season.
The Eagles may have not drawn the best hand when the schedules were released, but playing against four average defenses should be no trouble for a revamped offense that is reeling off plays at an astounding 15 seconds or less. Once the four games breeze by, this whole Johnson debacle will be obsolete, and he can return to rewriting the Sports Science textbooks on lineman athleticism.