Lane Johnson said he made a mistake. Maybe he did. But that doesn’t absolve him of responsibility. And to hear Chip Kelly tell it, it also doesn’t mean Johnson didn’t know what he was doing.
The Eagles’ offensive tackle was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the season for using a banned substance. Johnson said it was prescription medication that he “mistakenly and foolishly” took to help with a “medical issue.” You aren't alone if you rolled your eyes at the excuse or laughed it off as just another player who shrugged and employed the well-worn and hollow “oops, I didn’t know” defense.
On Saturday, before the Eagles’ first training camp practice at the NovaCare Complex, Kelly was asked if there was a lack of oversight by the team with regard to the Johnson situation. Put another way, were the Eagles at fault?
“We educate our players all the time,” Kelly insisted. “I think anybody that’s in the NFL knows you’re going to get tested. There’s also some individual responsibility that goes with the players. If the answer is ‘I didn’t know,’ they know.”
They know. Two words. He didn’t scream them, but he didn’t have to. It was a powerful and loud indictment of a guy who has already been judged guilty by the NFL.
“They get tested at the combine,” Kelly continued. “They get tested everywhere. Any of these guys that came from an NCAA institution understands that they get tested. But they’re also their own men. It’s no different than if you get pulled over for a DUI. Are you going to turn around and tell your [employers] that ‘you didn’t tell me I couldn’t do that?'”
It was a mistake? OK. You can try that excuse, but that doesn’t mean people will believe it.
Kelly said Johnson was hit with an “appropriate penalty,” and that “playing in this league is a privilege.”
“If you can’t follow the rules,” Kelly continued, “you’re not going to be here.”
Johnson is here for now. That will change. When the season begins, he won’t be allowed at the NovaCare Complex. No team meetings. No practice. No involvement. As a result, Allen Barbre will see more reps at right tackle with the first team in training camp.
“It will have an impact,” Kelly said. “Obviously, we have to get another guy ready. Allen Barbre will start out there. Obviously, we have to prepare for our first four games. We have to get the guy who’s going to be the starting tackle for the first four games in there. So it will have a big impact in terms of where [Johnson] is. But we still have to develop Lane. He’ll get reps, but it won’t be with the first team right now.”
There have been questions about how missing four games might arrest Johnson’s development. Might he regress during the suspension? And are there concerns about him transitioning back to the team after missing a month of meetings, film sessions and practices?
“Yeah,” Kelly said. “We’ll see. The ball is in his court in a lot of these situations.”