The Eagles kept Lane Johnson's starting spot waiting for him, plugging Johnson in at first-team right tackle during Tuesday's practice. It was the first time Johnson practiced since serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
Johnson's return allowed Todd Herremans to return to right guard. Matt Tobin remained at left guard, and David Molk is still the center. Johnson is slated to start Sunday's game against the St. Louis Rams - even if it will take him some time to return to form.
"I don't care what people say; the only way to get in football shape is playing football," Johnson said in his first public comments since the suspension. "I'm in decent shape. I'm not exactly where I want to be, but I'm good enough."
Johnson is around 315 pounds. He reported to the offseason program in April at 317 pounds, which was 10 pounds more than last season. Johnson said he focused on reducing his body fat during the past few weeks, trying to avoid sugar and Gatorade.
He worked each day from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Frisco, Texas. The mornings were spent doing football-specific drills. There were other players present, such as former Saints and Cardinals outside linebacker Victor Butler. He wore a 20-pound vest to help him get quicker, and he focused on practicing at a hurried pace.
During the afternoon, Johnson lifted weights and participated in conditioning drills. He stayed at a friend's home in Mesquite, Texas, for familiar company and to save a few dollars.
Johnson watched every game, seeing the Eagles lose three offensive linemen. That did not sit well with Johnson, especially when realizing how the offensive line woes affected the running game and the offense.
"It wasn't fun," Johnson said. "Just feel helpless. I'm just a bystander. I texted Todd [Herremans] and a couple of the other guys."
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur downplayed the significance of Johnson's suspension, comparing it to a four-week ankle injury. The difference is an injury would still keep a player with the team and the training staff, whereas Johnson was on his own. Herremans helped keep Johnson informed of any adjustments to the offense. Johnson was also able to listen to recordings of team meetings.
"I don't think there's anything we can do about that," Shurmur said of rust from Johnson being away. "It's just move on and play. Go play. I think that's something you deal with."
Johnson spent the entire training camp and preseason with the second-team offense. That forced him to improve his communication because he relied on Herremans last season.
"This year, I'm a lot more knowledgeable," Johnson said. "Todd's there just in case I do need him."
Johnson's return should also help Herremans, who played with two different right tackles this season. Herremans was also forced to start at right tackle last week. He can now return to guard, which strengthens the entire right side.
"Another piece back, it's exciting," Herremans said. "Our regular right side back."
Johnson said he'll have a better idea of how he's fitting in after Wednesday's practice, which will be in pads. Tuesday's session was lighter with players wearing shorts and shells. Johnson said he needs to develop a "rhythm" so that playing with the other linemen becomes second nature.
"I think it's going to take a few games to get to the top-notch level," Johnson said, "but I don't think I'm too far off right now."
Even if he's not at his best, Johnson can still be an upgrade over what the Eagles used in recent weeks.
Last season, the Eagles averaged 4.55 yards per carry behind the right tackle and 5.29 yards per carry around the right edge. This season, the Eagles average 2 yards per carry behind the right tackle and 3.6 yards per carry around the right edge. The difference has been Johnson's absence, and it could be what spurs the running game.
"I guess we'll see on Sunday," Johnson said.