Lane Johnson is an uncomplicated man with a very uncomplicated explanation for why he’s playing the best football of his life this season.
“I just got tired of being an eff-up,’’ the Eagles’ fifth-year right tackle said Monday. “That’s really what it is. I know what I can do. It’s just a matter of being on the field and proving it.
“This year is a platform to show people what I can do.’’
The “eff-up’’ comment primarily is a reference to his two suspensions for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. He sat out four games in 2014 and 10 last season.
If he tests positive a third time, he’s looking down the barrel of a two-season ban and millions of dollars in lost revenue. So, this is a guy who is well aware that he is playing with his back against the wall.
“When you go through some struggle and pain, it forces you to open your eyes and appreciate what you have before you lose it all,’’ Johnson said.
Johnson can’t recoup the salary he lost during last year’s suspension, but he is hoping to regain some of the respect he squandered from players and fans who view him as just another steroid cheat.
He took a significant step toward achieving that two weeks ago, when he shut down the Broncos’ three-time all-pro linebacker, Von Miller. Miller didn’t have a sack or a hurry against Johnson in the Eagles’ lopsided 51-23 win
He can take another giant step Sunday night if he can do the same thing to Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence who has an NFL-high 11 ½ sacks.
The 6-3, 265-pound Lawrence isn’t the quick-twitch freak that Miller is, but has been every bit as dangerous this season. He has at least one sack in eight of the Cowboys’ nine games.
Lawrence has 33¾-inch-long arms and huge 11-inch hands. “He’s long, and he uses his levers well,’’ Johnson said. “He’s not as fast as Von Miller, but he’s really strong bending the edge. He’s playing really well.’’
So is Johnson. Pro Football Focus rates him fourth in pass-blocking efficiency among the league’s offensive tackles – left and right — behind only Tampa Bay’s Demar Dotson, Cleveland’s Joe Thomas, and Eagles teammate Jason Peters. Thomas is a 10-time Pro Bowler, Peters nine, and both are out for the season.
Johnson has given up just two sacks, two hits, and six hurries in 288 pass-blocking opportunities in the Eagles’ first nine games.
His run-blocking also has been top-shelf.
“I just think he’s made his mind up that he wants to be a dominating player,’’ Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said. “And whatever it takes from his standpoint [he’s going to do]. From the time he walks in here [to the Eagles’ practice facility] to the time he leaves, it’s all business for Lane.
“Lane’s a worker. He’s always had that in him. But it’s gone to another level now. Maybe he’s learned from his past. Maybe [the suspensions] were good for him. Maybe bad things happen when you’re younger and you learn to appreciate everything a little bit more. You learn to understand the importance of … that’s how we all learn sometimes.’’
The Eagles drafted Johnson in 2013 with the idea that he would eventually succeed Jason Peters at left tackle. But no one, including the Eagles, expected Peters to continue to play at an elite level through his 35th birthday.
When Peters shredded his knee last month against Washington, Stoutland decided to plug in Halapoulivaati Vaitai at Peters’ spot and keep Johnson at right tackle.
He said he did it because Vaitai is a natural left tackle (he played on both sides at TCU) and Johnson was playing so well at right tackle, so it would be counterproductive to change two positions.
“We’re living in the moment right now,’’ said Stoutland, referring to the Eagles’ 8-1 record and suddenly realistic Super Bowl chances. “We’re not looking down the road. We’re looking at where we are right now and where we have to get to.
“I told coach [Doug] Peterson and [offensive coordinator] Frank [Reich] that, right now, the best thing would be to leave Lane where he is and let V focus on left tackle.’’
Johnson had no objections, particularly since it meant having the opportunity to go up against Miller and Lawrence in back-to-back games.
“I’m fine with it,’’ he said. “They knew Von was really going to stay on my side. He had only played something like 16 snaps over the left tackle this season.
“And moving forward, it’s not going to get any easier. I have quite a few [good edge-rushers] to go through.’’
If Johnson can muzzle Lawrence on Sunday night the same way he muzzled Miller two weeks ago, maybe people finally will realize how good he is. Maybe it will lead to his first Pro Bowl invitation and some all-pro consideration.
Or maybe not. Maybe they’ll always think of him as the right tackle who got pinched not once but twice for steroid use.
He said he doesn’t care about the Pro Bowl, that it’s a popularity contest, which it is to a certain degree.
“In the past, we get the ballot right before meetings,’’ he said. “Guys spend five minutes filling it out. It is what it is.
“I just see people in the Pro Bowl sometimes [who] I don’t think are better than me. It’s just that I keep effing up. I’m my own worst enemy from that standpoint.
“I’m ready to hit the prime of my career. When I reach the height of my career, I’ll be dominant. It’s just a matter of being consistent.’’
And not effing up.