Sources: Eagles' Lane Johnson suspended for PED use

Posted: July 02, 2014

ONE OF THE BIG reasons for the Eagles' rags-to-riches success last season was their health.

Whether it was the Chip Kelly Wellness Plan or good fortune or a combination of the two, Eagles starters missed only 30 games combined because of injury, which was the fourth fewest in the NFL.

Their offensive line, which was devastated by injuries in 2012, didn't have a single missed start last season. Their five starters missed a total of 98 snaps in 17 games as the Eagles led the league in rushing and finished second in total offense and fourth in scoring.

With the start of training camp still 3 1/2 weeks away, though, it looks as if the offensive line will be without at least one starter for the first month of the season.

According to league sources, second-year right tackle Lane Johnson has tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and is expected to miss the first four regular-season games.

Johnson can appeal the results of the test, but they seldom are reversed. According to the league's PED policy, he must notify the league within 5 business days of receiving written notification of the positive test result if he wants a second sample tested.

Neither Johnson nor his agent, Ken Sarnoff, returned messages from the Daily News yesterday.

An Eagles spokesman said that any statement on the suspension would come from the NFL.

Johnson will be allowed to participate in training camp and play in the Eagles' preseason games. During his four-game suspension, he will not be allowed to practice with the team and will have no access to the NovaCare facility.

Johnson is the second Eagle to test positive for PEDs this offseason. Linebacker Jake Knott tested positive earlier this year and also will miss the first four games, assuming he even makes the team, which hardly is a given.

That's obviously not the case with Johnson. While Knott was an undrafted free agent last year, Johnson was the fourth overall pick in 2013 and started every game for the Eagles at right tackle.

The 6-6, 317-pound former quarterback and tight end out of the University of Oklahoma struggled a bit early on, but played well overall in his first NFL season.

"I think after, probably, Week 4-5, I started picking up the pace, and I think I played really well through the stretch," Johnson said during the team's spring OTAs. "I think I peaked at the right time."

Said Kelly: "The one thing I've said about Lane is he very rarely makes the same mistakes twice. That's the mark of a really good football player."

The four games Johnson will miss will be against Jacksonville (home), Indianapolis (away), Washington (home) and San Francisco (away). Two playoff teams, a division opponent and an improved Jaguars team that won four of its last eight games last season.

Veteran Allen Barbre, who was the Eagles' top backup at both guard and tackle last season and signed a 3-year contract extension this spring, likely would replace Johnson in those four games.

Barbre has only seven career starts in six NFL seasons, but played very well in the preseason last year and turned in a solid effort in a November win over the Packers after replacing injured left tackle Jason Peters.

The Eagles have two options. The most likely one is just inserting Barbre at Johnson's right-tackle spot for those four games. All seven of his career starts came in '09 with the Packers at right tackle.

They also could slide right guard Todd Herremans back to right tackle and play Barbre at right guard. Barbre can play inside, and Herremans started the first eight games of the 2012 season at right tackle before suffering a season-ending foot injury.

Something else to keep an eye on: Evan Mathis, the team's 32-year-old All-Pro left guard, hasn't made it a secret he's not happy with the contract he signed 2 years ago. He attended all of the team's voluntary spring OTAs and the mandatory June minicamp, but it wouldn't be a shock if the Drew Rosenhaus client was a no-show at NovaCare on July 25.

This much is clear: The Eagles need a solid performance from their athletic offensive line this season if they are going to make a Super Bowl run. While they led the league in rushing last year, they also gave up 46 sacks and finished 30th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play.

"Forty-six sacks was way too many," Herremans said. "We're going to focus a little more on pass protection and try to tighten some things up this year."

Not having Johnson for the first four games certainly won't help that.

There also is the fact that the line is showing some age. Mathis turns 33 in November. Peters turned 32 in January. Herremans turns 32 in October. Both Mathis and Peters went to the Pro Bowl last season, but that was then and this is now.

"I feel real good about our unit," Herremans said 2 weeks ago. "The way we take care of our bodies, we had very few guys in the training room last year. I don't think it was a coincidence."


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

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