Al Thompson
Lane Johnson has repeatedly taken blame for Eagles 7-9 season in 2016. Photo by Andy Lewis /

Going into Sunday’s season opener in Washington, there are two words on the mind every offensive lineman and blocker, every coach, every fan and of course quarterback Carson Wentz: Ryan Kerrigan.

The pass rush linebacker was credited with 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the Redskins two wins over the Birds, but those numbers, although outstanding, do not do justice to the overall impact he had in those to losses.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson had been forced to use rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle in place of standout Lane Johnson, who had just started his 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance enhancing drugs.

The coach talked about Kerrigan and the importance of having Johnson back.

“First of all, Ryan, he’s a great player,” Pederson said on Monday. “He’s a high-motor guy, relentless finish. That’s what you have to identify with him. It’s good to have Lane back, obviously. That was Big V’s (Vaitai) first start last year, and as we know, he struggled in the game. To have Lane back, a little confidence there. Should be a good matchup all day. Just got to give the guy respect. He’s a good pass-rusher.”

Johnson has not stopped putting the blame on himself for the Eagles lost season. The Birds were 5-1 with him, 2-8 without him.

In reality no offensive lineman should have that kind of direct impact on a team’s record, but it’s there and impossible to ignore.

“Last season, you can put a lot of the losses on me, not being with the team,” Johnson said at his locker Wednesday. “It’s a new year this year, let’s get it started the right way.”

Johnson talked about how tough it was to watch the rookie struggle knowing he was responsible for him being in there.

“It still affects me today,” Johnson said. “It just motivates me to go out there and play harder this year. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Johnson said he will resist getting too hyped for the opener. Eagles fans will be looking at him as a big key to breaking the Redskins five-game winning streak over the Birds.

“I don’t like getting too high before a game,” Johnson said. “Usually if you get too emotional, you don’t play as well as you want. I just try and stay calm and just go out there and play.”

Johnson was reminded about a column he penned for the players blog website back in August that appeared to be a quest to relate to Eagles Nation, and get them fired up. Johnson may have started a fire storm that will no doubt intensify as the opener approaches.

Newly acquired Washington linebacker Zach Brown ripped Johnson on social media and in the Washington Post for his comment and hinted he would retaliate.

In the column Johnson wrote, among other things…

“Let me tell you what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks: This team is going to go down to D.C. and whup some ass against the Redskins. We’re going to surprise some people.”
Johnson has stood by the remarks right after he made them and again this week.

“I don’t really care,” he said Wednesday. “If I’m the guy that sets the tone, gets guys going, so be it. All it is is trash talk. I’m just trying get an edge, get a mentality. Last year is last year, it’s a brand new season.”
Johnson said his teammates said he was crazy for making the remarks but had his back.

“I know the guys have my back,” Johnson said. “I know the guys I play next to on the O-line have my back so, it’s all good.”

Pederson was asked if he believed this game is one that might tell him more about his team than maybe another game might as far as a passion to end the streak and start a season that has the Eagles on the road for four of their first six games.

“I think they’re all must wins, quite honestly,” Pederson said. “I think the opener is a very important game. It kind of can set the tempo for the rest of the season, and it’s the first part of the year. I talk to our guys about starting fast; that goes without question, how we start the season. Every one’s big. Every game is big. We do treat it one week at a time, obviously. This is no different. It just happens to be our opener on the road; we know we didn’t play well last year on the road. And it is a division opponent. So it’s a great test for our ball club. Find out where we’re at.”

Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Johnson has been focused from the day the team started preparing for the 2017 season.

“I mean, I think Lane just looked great,” Reich. “He’s had a great offseason, great camp. Lane is a leader in a lot of ways. He’s not the most vocal leader, but I love the way he practices. Love his intensity. He’s a very intense individual. And I think you can see that when he’s in the meeting room and when he’s on the practice field. We’re looking forward to a great game and a great season from him, for sure.”

Johnson admitted this week is a big one.

“They say we’ve lost four or five against them,” Johnson said. “We need a win against this team. It’s been way too long.”

If Johnson can subdue Kerrigan, it can go a long way to achieving that goal.

7 Sep 17 - Eagles, Football, NFL - Al Thompson - No Comments