Johnson acknowledges mistake that led to suspension

ASSOCIATED PRESS Lane Johnson, suspended four games for use of a banned substance, walks away after meeting media.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Lane Johnson, suspended four games for use of a banned substance, walks away after meeting media.
Posted: July 27, 2014

NOBODY was looking more forward to the start of the 2014 season than Lane Johnson. After some early growing pains last season, the Eagles' rookie right tackle found his stride about midseason and finished his first NFL tour of duty strong.

But when the Eagles host the Jacksonville Jaguars in their season opener at the Linc on Sept. 7, Johnson won't be there. He will be at home serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

"This sucks," Johnson said yesterday after reporting to the NovaCare Complex for the start of training camp. "The toughest part of it is I'm not going to be around here to battle [when the season opens].

"I felt I had a really good minicamp and OTAs. I was expecting to go out and do really well and pick up where I left off last year. I was expecting to go out there and get a good start Week 1. It's something I can't do now. But it's all my fault. I got nobody to blame but myself. It's all on me."

Nobody will argue that point, including his teammates.

"It's not a good situation there," left guard Evan Mathis said. "Lane did something that was not very smart. It's not like he was taking something for an extended period of time. He got caught in a small window doing it, thinking it was OK to take it because he had a prescription. If he had gone through the proper channels, it would've been taken care of."

Johnson's suspension was announced by the NFL on Wednesday. He was informed in mid-May that he had tested positive for a banned substance. He appealed the test result, but his appeal was rejected.

Johnson will be allowed to participate in training camp and the Eagles' four preseason games, but then is banned from Nova-Care after the final preseason game against the Jets on Aug. 28, and will not be allowed to rejoin the team until Sept. 29, the day after the Eagles' fourth regular-season game against San Francisco.

"It's something I just have to deal with for 4 weeks," Johnson said. "The toughest part is going to be not being able to even be around here. I can't play. I can't practice. I'm trying to find someplace to train [during the suspension], so that I can keep in good football shape and come back and play well.

"I'm going to try to do some one-on-ones with somebody or something. It's hard to play in a game when you haven't been practicing."

Adhering to the advice of Eagles coach Chip Kelly, Johnson wouldn't say exactly what banned substance he took. In a statement released by the team on Wednesday, he said he took a prescribed drug for a medical issue.

Johnson said he took the drug briefly in April. Asked who the doctor was who prescribed the drug to him, he said, "It was a family physician I've used over the years."

Johnson said he was back home in Texas when he took the drug, which was why he didn't run the drug by Eagles trainer Chris Pedruzzi before using it.

"That's not an excuse," he said. "If you take anything, you're supposed to talk to the head trainer. That was my mistake. And I'm paying the price for it.

"The toughest part is I let the team down. I let the fans down."

Johnson, a former quarterback and tight end, clearly has added muscle and weight during the offseason. That undoubtedly will make many people skeptical about his prescribed-drug-for-a-medical-issue explanation.

"That's people's opinions," he said. "There's nothing I can do to stop it or prevent it. This is my mistake. I brought this all on myself. It's something I've got to deal with. I let my teammates down. I let Chip down. I let [general manager] Howie [Roseman] and everybody else in the organization down. That's the biggest deal with it."

Johnson was the second Eagles player this year to be suspended four games for violating the PED policy. Linebacker Jake Knott, like Johnson a second-year player, was suspended in April.

Asked yesterday whether the two suspensions indicated a lack of oversight at NovaCare, Johnson said it didn't.

"It's not that," he said. "There's a list of 200 banned substances you take. They're all over the building [the list, presumably, not the banned substances].

"But athletes get carried away a little bit. Substances like that aren't FDA-regulated. So it's real easy to take something you're not aware of. But that's no excuse. They tell us in meetings all the time to talk to our trainers. That's something I didn't do."

Linebacker Connor Barwin said he thinks the relative inexperience of Johnson and Knott contributed to their taking the banned substances.

"Those are two young guys," he said. "Older guys probably wouldn't make that mistake. You know right away, if [you're taking] anything from a doctor, you need to check [on its legality]. Regardless if it's a foot doctor or a dermatologist or anybody. You use an Eagles doctor. The young guys have learned that and won't make that mistake again."

It's not clear how Johnson's suspension will impact the number of repetitions he will get in the Eagles' training-camp practices and preseason games. While he'll be back for the final 12 games, the coaching staff needs to give his replacement enough work this summer so that he's ready to step in and play in those first four games.

"I don't know," Johnson said. "I'll know more probably tomorrow when we start. I'm sure it will affect [my reps]."

Johnson's likely replacement will be veteran backup Allen Barbre, who has only seven career starts - all at right tackle - in six NFL seasons.

Barbre, a versatile player who can play inside or outside, had a solid training camp and preseason with the Eagles last year, which earned him the top backup job behind a line that missed a grand total of 90 snaps last year. He acquitted himself well in a Week 10 win over the Packers when he had to replace injured left tackle Jason Peters.

The Eagles signed Barbre to a 3-year contract extension in early June, only 2 weeks after learning of Johnson's suspension.

The most likely scenario is that Barbre will replace Johnson at right tackle in the first four games. A possible, but less likely option would be to slide right guard Todd Herremans, who has made 23 of his 116 career starts at right tackle, back outside, and put Barbre inside.

"Allen's awesome," quarterback Nick Foles said. "He's a tremendous player, works hard every day. He's almost like a caveman out there. He's big, strong, physical guy. Very smart. I feel very confident that he's going to do a great job for us."

Said Johnson: "Barbre, just watching him in practice last year, I think he can be a dominant player when he plays. I think the guys will fill my shoes well."


On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: eagletarian.com

 

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