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Change At OT Is Reality For Offense

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Lane Johnson doesn't expect much help when he lines up at left tackle for the first time since his college days on Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys. He's going to be on an island, with a huge responsibility.

The news became official earlier in the day when the Eagles announced that left tackle Jason Peters was downgraded from questionable to out for this game after suffering back spasms two Sundays ago in the loss at Carolina. It wasn't a surprise, but it was a sudden reality: The Eagles are going into this NFC East showdown with Johnson, a right tackle since the day he was drafted No. 4 overall in 2013, moving to the left side to replace Peters, and with Dennis Kelly making his first start at right tackle the 2012 season.

How much the offensive line shakeup impacts the design of the offense remains to be seen, but Johnson thinks he's largely going to be on an island against an array of Dallas pass rushers, including Greg Hardy.

"Probably left alone. Here in our offense, we really don't get a lot of chip pro (chip blocking from a running back in pass protection) or help by the tight end, so it will probably be a lot of one-on-one the whole game," Johnson said upon arriving at the team hotel and prior to taking part in the NBC Television production meeting.

Johnson played left tackle after playing right tackle at Oklahoma and stood out with his athleticism after transitioning from quarterback, defensive line and tight end earlier in his football career. The Eagles made him a right tackle after his selection in the first round of the 2013 draft with the idea that at some point Johnson would possibly move back to the left side once Peters was done dominating.

Who would have thought, though, that Peters would have such a difficult time staying on the field in 2015 after earning his seventh career, and fifth as an Eagle, Pro Bowl bid in the 2014 season? Sunday's absence is the first game Peters will miss since suffering the torn Achilles tendon that sidelined him for all of the 2012 campaign, but Peters was forced out of the Jets game for eight plays with a quad injury, then played only six snaps at Washington before aggravating the quad and then was felled with the back injury after 14 snaps in Carolina. Peters has played in 75 percent of the offense's 510 snaps this season.

At least, if there is any kind of silver lining here, the Eagles knew Peters was questionable, at best, all week. Johnson and Kelly manned the tackle spots all week in training, with Allen Barbre at left guard, Jason Kelce at center and Matt Tobin at right guard.

Johnson is as ready as he can be for the blind-side challenge against Dallas.

"I feel as good as I need to be to get out there and go play," Johnson said. "It felt good to go out there next to Al and get our communication down for this week, so I feel comfortable."

Change isn't anything new for the offensive line, and while Johnson's brain and innate body moves have been trained to play at right tackle, he's got to be able to reverse his steps and his mental process to play left handed in the nationally televised game.

"It's tough adjusting but that's the way the game goes," he said. "We have some guys who have to do the same thing -- Matt Tobin, Dennis Kelly moving around. When my number is called, I just have to go out there and do my job."

In an absolutely critical game, the Eagles collectively have a huge task to get back to winning. The offense was shut down in the Week 2 loss against Dallas and the names have changed since. The offensive line played very poorly that day. The group has improved since then, but now there is more change. Added to that is the improvement made by the Dallas front seven, which includes Hardy, pass-rushing rookie Randy Gregory and linebacker Rolando McClain, none of whom played in the first meeting between the teams.

The news on Saturday was nothing that we didn't expect, but it's just a little bit more of a jolt. Johnson and Kelly are in new positions, on the island, with a really strong Cowboys defensive line on the attack.

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