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Why Lane Johnson vs. Steven Means is an important Eagles practice matchup | Early Birds

Lane Johnson might be the NFL's best right tackle. Backup defensive end Steven Means is one reason why.

Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson expects to return this week.
Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson expects to return this week.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans. This is a Wednesday edition of Early Birds. The Eagles have their first practice of the week at 12:45. Coach Doug Pederson has a 10:30 a.m. news conference, and Carson Wentz meets with reporters at noon.

  1. You've probably read much about right tackle Lane Johnson this season (Some examples: A film breakdown, his redemption tour, the way he played against Von Miller).  It won't stop, considering the way he's playing. You're seeing it each week. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich is cautious about overhyping players during the season, but he threw his chips on the table Tuesday when discussing Johnson. "I just can't imagine there's a better right tackle in the league," Reich said. "He's been unbelievable. He's playing out of his mind." Reich noted the elite pass rushers that Johnson has faced, and the fact that the Eagles don't need to give him help. It allows them to give more attention to the other side, where they're playing without Jason Peters.

  2. Speaking of Lane Johnson, he sees reserve defensive end Steven Means in practice every day. Means is a player the Eagles like; the contract extension he signed before the season was evidence. Means has only been active for three games because he's the fifth defensive end, and the Eagles haven't had depth problems at the position. But he's been a help for the offensive tackles in practice behind the scenes. "He's one of the most respected players on our team, and there's going to come a time where he's going to have to play a big part in what we do," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "He already has, but I'm talking about on Sunday. And I know this, the way he prepares, he's not doing that to help Lane Johnson prepare. He's doing it to get himself ready. There's going to come a time where he's going to have to go out there. Just a fact of life in the NFL."

  3. Alshon Jeffery is playing his former team, the Bears, on Sunday. He started the week checking out the Sixers-Jazz game on Monday. Jeffery, a former basketball standout, is a big basketball fan. He's impressed with what what he saw from the Sixers and thinks "The Process" will come to fruition quickly. He's buying into the Joel EmbiidBen Simmons combination. "Embiid is like Shaq and [Hakeem Olajuwon] mixed," Jeffery said. "He's got a jump shot, post moves, and the footwork. … I like the Shaq and Penny Hardaway [comparisons]."

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— Zach Berman

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Alshon Jeffery is heating up as he prepares to play against his former team, and he's happy playing on the Eagles and in Philadelphia.

  2. It's hard to find fault with the Eagles, Les Bowen writes, but the run defense wasn't especially good on Sunday.

  3. Derek Barnett's performance against the Cowboys showed his growth, Mike Sielski writes.

  4. Brian Dawkins and Terrell Owens are Hall of Fame semifinalists — again, Paul Domowitch reports.

  5. What did Chris Maragos think of Kamu Grugier-Hill's kicking? Les tells you.

  6. The Eagles reached a new deal with WIP to keep the radio team in place, Rob Tornoe writes.

  7. Listen to the latest Birds' Eye View podcast breaking down the Eagles' top NFC challengers.

  8. If you missed Tuesday's Early Birds, it offered a look at the Eagles' kicking situation.

From the mailbag

I've heard this from a few other people. Kamu Grugier-Hill did an admirable job on his kickoffs and was as good of a fill-in as the Eagles could have hoped. But the Eagles should want a proven kicker who can get touchbacks, unless the game plan calls for shorter kicks. Also, I see your point about a capable tackler, but he's not in his typical position, and kickers aren't often asked to tackle. So the best solution is to get Jake Elliott back. The team needs a kicker for field goals and extra points, and the reliability of a strong-legged kicker is important for field position.