Lane Johnson: 'I failed the team'

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Eagles tackle Lane Johnson.

Lane Johnson left for his 10-game suspension on Oct. 10, when the Eagles were 3-1. He returned this week to a team with a 5-9 record. He could do the math.

"I failed the team this year," Johnson said. "Could have been a lot different. That's on me."

Johnson did not hide from responsibility Tuesday in his first public comments since returning from a suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and he did not rely on banal statements about moving forward. He emphasized that his words are hollow and his actions will earn back the good graces of the fans, but the 10-week exile was every bit the punishment it was intended to be.

"It was a [lousy] situation," Johnson said. "You can put that on record."

Johnson added that he "let the team down" and that the Eagles had momentum when he left. He thought they should have been 4-0 after losing in the final minutes to the Detroit Lions on Oct. 9, but the Eagles still looked like one of the better teams in the NFC. The offense slumped after his exit, however, and the defense eventually faltered. The free fall was not caused by one player's absence, but it would have helped the Eagles to have one of the best players on their team.

"It weighs on my mind all the time," Johnson said. "Even right now when I'm with the team. I feel like a lot of things could have happened differently with the season. Not saying one player could have done that much, but I feel like I could have helped the team in a lot of good ways."

Johnson swore off supplement use, but he said he's bigger now than he has ever been. He weighs 322 pounds - he was 318 when he left - and he worked out in Oklahoma with baseball players for about five weeks. He told reporters that he spent his first five weeks resting. There's a major jump going from training in a gym to playing right tackle against the New York Giants on Thursday. He admitted it's "going to be tough after 10 weeks off." Time will tell what kind of shape he is in.

But his mere presence is a benefit. Quarterback Carson Wentz said it's "exciting" to have Johnson back, and offensive coordinator Frank Reich noticed a difference in the facility since Johnson returned.

"I know it sounds corny, but you could feel the energy," Reich said. "You could feel it bottled up. You could sense it ready to go. . . . We expect [Johnson] to come back and set the bar very high like he did for himself going forward. It's great to have him back."

The 10-week suspension did not change Johnson's feelings about the process that led to his suspension for using a banned supplement. He disliked how long it took to make a ruling, and he recently filed unfair labor practice charges against the NFL and the players association. He's hoping that there are changes in the next collective bargaining agreement and that players learn from his experience.

"I'm on a lot of people's [naughty] list," Johnson said. "But I've got a few people on my [naughty] list as well."

To work his way back into the good graces of fans, Johnson said he must stop talking about it and play "good football" for them to prove his worth. He insisted that he's still "one of the best right tackles in the league, if not the best right tackle there is." That's not the case when he's sitting at home in Oklahoma, though, watching the Eagles lose.

He'll be back on the field Thursday. Johnson and his team need to make sure he stays there.

"They brought me here to play tackle for them, and they need me on the field," Johnson said. "That's where I've been the past couple of years, and being four years in and really only played three, if that tells you anything. From now on, no more strikes or I'm out. I know what's at stake. I think it's going to bring the best out of me as a player, and as a person."

zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm