The official news on Wednesday that Johnson faces a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy raises many questions that only Johnson can answer with his response in the future to the suspension and that the Eagles must answer for four games without their second-year right offensive tackle.
Johnson issued a statement once the news broke, and he acknowledged making a mistake and owning up to his poor decision. That’s an important step as he takes his next steps in preparation for the ’14 campaign. Johnson is permitted to practice with the team and participate in the preseason games, but then he will be away from the NovaCare Complex when the Eagles play Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Washington and San Francisco.
It will be vitally important that Johnson pushes himself during those four weeks and that he returns to the practice field and game action as sharp as he can be and, potentially, step back into his role at right tackle.
In the meantime, the Eagles have to replace the second-year player who helped the offense reach some historic levels in the 2013 season. They’ve cultivated some depth over the last year, and they’ve always stressed versatility up front.
There are options. Head coach Chip Kelly and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland will consider everything between now and the opener against Jacksonville. The Eagles will do everything possible to go into the first game capably manned at right tackle. Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman are likely to address the issue with their media time over the weekend. Until then, we can only speculate on what they are thinking and planning to do.
Johnson will field a lot of questions from the media when he reports to the NovaCare Complex on Friday and he’ll have to stand up like a man and move past this setback. He’s a promising young player who performed solidly as a rookie after the Eagles made him a first-round pick in April, 2013, and the team is counting on him to continue to improve. He’s a key piece for this offensive line moving forward.
In this instance, Johnson and the Eagles pay a price for a bad decision. It is one that costs the offensive line its starting right tackle for the opening four games of the regular season, and with that, everyone has to work together to fill the void and learn from the step back.