IN A refreshingly unexpected exhibition of candor seldom seen in the NFL, coach Doug Pederson acknowledged the elephant in the room.
The elephant was his elephantine right tackle, 6-6, 317-pound Lane Johnson, who, indirectly, Pederson confirmed is facing a 10-game suspension for violating the policy for performing-enhancing drugs for a second time in three years. Pederson said that the Eagles are making contingency plans to replace Johnson if his B sample comes back dirty and his appeal is denied. The pending suspension was first reported by a local radio personality, then supported by two national reports, though Johnson and his agent have denied it.
Those denials seemed hollow when Pederson spoke Thursday night after the Eagles beat the Buccanneers with Johnson in the starting lineup. Pederson allowed that the Eagles will begin to consider replacements for Johnson, since a suspension might not be concrete for several weeks.
"You always have to be mindful of that," Pederson said. "I'll visit with coach (Jeff) Stoutland this week, and we'll evaluate where we need to go from here. If it's upheld, we have to be prepared to make some moves. We have to be smart about it, to have people ready to go . . . If the 10 games start Week 1 . . . I have to anticipate that there's at least a chance."
Stoutland, the offensive line coach, has cobbled together all sorts of solutions in his three seasons with the Eagles, but replacing Johnson, an ascending, fourth-year player who arrived with Stoutland and Chip Kelly, might be his greatest task.
"It would be smart on my part to have a Plan B," Pederson said. "Coach Stouland and I will make that decision, to see who's the next best at that position."
It sounded as though Pederson isn't eager to see career backups Dennis Kelly or Matt Tobin, who are the backups on the depth chart, entrenched at right tackle.
"It may be somebody that hasn't played there this spring or this summer," Pederson said. "It could be a guy who has already been there. We've got time to figure this out."
Johnson was not made available after the game.
Staring left guard Alan Barbre has played tackle in the NFL. At any rate, Pederson does not believe the Eagles will add a player: "We've got the bodies."
Pederson sighed heavily when he acknowledged that he he has not spoken with Johnson about the possibility of a second suspension. He might be staying away from Johnson because he seems so angry that Johnson, who failed a test in 2014 and was suspended for the first four games of his second season, would put the fate of the team in such a perilous position. The Eagles in January gave Johnson a six-year, $63 million contract extension that cemented him as the cornerstone of the offense for the foreseeable future, which included a likely move to left tackle when the team moves on from aging star Jason Peters.
Asked whether he would be disappointed in Johnson if he misses 10 games, Pederson said:
"Yeah. I'll be disappointed . . . Sometimes you learn the hard way."