The uncertainty surrounding the Eagles’ offensive line persists.
A few days after Lane Johnson missed the Eagles’ 42-30 loss against the Chiefs because of a “personal matter,” coach Nick Sirianni said the veteran right tackle still wasn’t with the team during his Wednesday morning news conference.
Johnson wasn’t at practice during the early portion open to the media, and Sirianni wouldn’t comment on whether he expects him to be available for this Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers.
“He’s not here today. He’s still dealing with a personal matter,” Sirianni said. “Really not going to go any more further into that; I’m still going to respect his privacy. But he is not here today.”
After finding out a few hours before the game that Johnson wouldn’t be available, the Eagles shuffled their offensive line, moving Jack Driscoll from right guard to right tackle and putting Nate Herbig at right guard.
Like last year, the Eagles’ offensive line depth has been tested so far this year with Jason Kelce as the lone starter from Week 1 in the lineup for the Chiefs game. Even Kelce is dealing with a minor injury, missing Wednesday’s practice with a “rest/foot” designation. Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Brandon Brooks, and Johnson were all sidelined against Kansas City, but the group of backups fared reasonably well albeit against a porous Chiefs defensive front.
Driscoll, who had spent the week practicing at right guard because of the team’s decision to move Landon Dickerson to left guard, said he found out he’d be taking Johnson’s spot a few hours before the game from offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
Driscoll had a similar situation happen last year when Johnson was ruled out of the season opener against Washington with an ankle injury. The 2020 fourth-round pick matched up against Washington star edge rusher Chase Young and held his own.
He spent the rest of the season as the on-call backup tackle as Johnson struggled with an ankle injury that eventually caused him to get season-ending surgery.
“Last year I learned pretty quickly that you can get thrown into the fire,” Driscoll said. “Sometimes, it’s better to just be thrown into the fire. You don’t have time to be nervous, you don’t have time to overthink it. You just have to go out there and focus on your fundamentals, that’s what helped me the first time and this time was just really focusing on my technique no matter who was across from me.”
Driscoll said he’s preparing this week at both right guard and tackle.
“I’m sure Coach Stout will let me know later in the week which one,” Driscoll said. “It’s the same thing. I’ll be ready for either one and go out there and do what I can.”
Aside from Johnson’s status, the Eagles are also in a wait-and-see mode with Mailata as he recovers from a sprained knee that’s sidelined him in each of the last two games. The 24-year-old who recently signed a contract extension was a limited participant in practice on Wednesday, marking the first time he has suited up since suffering the injury.
It’s safe to say the Eagles hoped the offensive tackle would be ready by this weekend when he first suffered the injury, considering they kept him off injured reserve. If they placed him on IR, he’d be out for a minimum of three games.
“We’re excited to get him back out there and get moving around,” Sirianni said. “So look forward to seeing him here in walk-through in a little bit and then what he can do with his limited reps there today in practice.”
If Johnson isn’t back by Sunday and Mailata is cleared to return, the Eagles will have to choose which of their young tackles they want to move to the right side. Even though Mailata beat Andre Dillard for the starting left tackle job during training camp, Dillard has filled in and played well on the left side each of the last two games. Dillard played exclusively left tackle both in high school and in college before the Eagles drafted him in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft.
He played one game at right tackle during his rookie season and struggled so much that the team benched him at halftime. Before the game, he compared switching sides to writing an important essay with the wrong hand.
Mailata has played both left and right tackle, and Stoutland has praised his ability to do both in the past.
“When Jordan was swinging back and forth? No problem,” Stoutland said last month. “We’ve had other players here in the past, they had some issues going to the right side. ... There is a balance issue when you change, you don’t want to be leaning outside when you’re on the right side. You take a left side who is usually leaning inside and put him on the right, now they’re leaning.”