Lane Johnson vs. Ryan Kerrigan a major key for Eagles in Week 1

Lane Johnson vs. Ryan Kerrigan a major key for Eagles in Week 1

Lane Johnson could only watch from home as Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan almost single-handedly beat the Eagles in 2016 — not once, but twice.

“It still affects me today,” Johnson said Wednesday after practice. “It just motivates me to go out there and go play even harder this year.”

Johnson missed both dates with Washington last season because of a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The result was nothing less than disastrous for the Eagles, who were suddenly rendered powerless to stop one of the NFC East’s most formidable pass rushers.

With Halapoulivaati Vaitai making his first professional start in place of Johnson at right tackle, Kerrigan registered 2½ sacks and five quarterback hits in the first meeting alone. The second time around, Kerrigan went around Matt Tobin and knocked the ball free from Carson Wentz in the final minute, the ensuing turnover closing the book on a late Eagles’ rally.

Kudos to Kerrigan, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, but this was no coincidence. The Eagles finished the season with a 5-1 record when Johnson was in the lineup, and went 2-8 without.

“All last season, you can put a lot of the losses on me not being with the team,” Johnson said. “It's a new year this year, so we're just ready to get started off the right way.”

Johnson just spent the last 13 months discussing how helpless he felt throughout this ordeal. After waiting nine weeks from the time word got out about the suspension until learning his fate, Johnson was struck with the maximum ban four games into the Eagles’ season. By the time he returned, the team was eliminated from playoff contention. To this day, Johnson has an ongoing lawsuit against the NFL and NFL Players Association.

Who can blame the guy for being excited about the opportunity to finally turn the page? The key for Johnson will be to not get too excited.

“I really don't like getting too hyped for a game,” Johnson said. “Usually, if you get too emotional, you don't play as well as what you want. Try to keep it calm, and just go out there and go play.”

The thing is, Johnson’s track record against Kerrigan is kind of spotty. The last time the two faced off in 2015, Kerrigan was not credited with making a single play in the Eagles’ backfield. Earlier that same season, Kerrigan recorded one sack and two tackles for loss. In the five games the two have gone head-to-head, Kerrigan has three sacks and four tackles for loss.

“Kerrigan has always been a good opponent for me,” Johnson said. “A guy that tries hard every play, great motor, so it's going to be a challenge.”

Some give and take is to be expected. After all, Kerrigan is up to 58½ sacks over his six-year career.

“He’s a great player,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “He's a high-motor guy, relentless finish. That's what you have to identify with him.

“To have Lane back, a little confidence there. Should be a good matchup all day, and just have to give the guy respect. He's a good pass rusher.”

Wentz is certainly breathing a little easier knowing Johnson will be in there this time around. By the time injuries had taken their toll on the offensive line, the Eagles were down to their fourth right tackle in the waning moments of their most recent game against Washington.

“We’re excited for Lane to be back,” Wentz said. “We’re excited for, thankfully, right now where we’re at, the entire O-line is healthy. That’s a big perk. A big strongpoint of our offense is that O-line and those big boys up front, so having Lane back, having everybody be healthy to start the year is exciting.

“He’s definitely a rock-solid guy at right tackle, so it will be good to have him.”

Nobody feels worse about Johnson’s suspension than him — except maybe Wentz, who bore the brunt of that absence on the football field. Thankfully for Johnson, the time for apologizing is finally over, and he can make up for it by going out and keeping his quarterback upright.

Atonement begins Week 1 with keeping Kerrigan at bay, but Johnson realizes it’s going to take more than one game to truly make amends.

“This whole season is meaningful to me,” Johnson said. “I’ve let down this team too many times. I’m on a thin leash here, so I need to go out and go play well and just be a good teammate.”

Getting over gut-punch loss of Chris Maragos no easy task for Eagles

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Getting over gut-punch loss of Chris Maragos no easy task for Eagles

It was late last Thursday night in Charlotte, well after the celebrating in the locker room subsided and well after most of his teammates had already gotten on the bus to take them to the airport. 

Eagles special teams captain Chris Maragos, with a heavy brace on his right leg, emerged from the visitors' locker room and limped through the cement bowels of Bank of America Stadium. The pissed off look plastered on his face as he left the field after injuring his right knee in the fourth quarter had given way to a look of resignation. He knew. 

Maragos was officially placed on injured reserve on Thursday, which means the Eagles will have to continue what they hope will be a magical season without one of their unquestioned leaders. 

"It was rough, man," said fellow special teamer Najee Goode, who collided with Maragos on the play that injured him. "That's my dawg. Chris is a beast. He brings a lot of energy to special teams. But we're going to replace him. He's still going to be there, making sure we do what we need to do." 

If any team is prepared to get over the loss of a player like Maragos it might be these Eagles. They've already survived — thrived, really — after losing Darren Sproles, Ronald Darby, Rodney McLeod, Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks, Lane Johnson and Wendell Smallwood for varying lengths of time. 

But like when they lost Sproles for the season, the Eagles are going to miss more than just Maragos' on-field play. He's also the captain of Dave Fipp's excellent special teams group. Maragos, one of five captains on the team, said at the time he was voted a captain that it meant more to him than any other accomplishment in his career. 

And that's saying a lot. Maragos' story is pretty amazing. He was originally a wide receiver in college until then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema saw Maragos track down a DB after an interception and moved him to defense on the spot. Eventually, Maragos worked his way into the NFL as an undrafted free agent and eventually won a Super Bowl with the Seahawks before coming to Philly. 

Early in his time with the Birds, Maragos actually played a significant role on defense. But when the new coaching staff arrived, it was clear his role would be on special teams, so he threw himself back into it. And he's been incredible. 

Last November, Maragos signed a three-year, $6 million extension that goes through the 2019 season and was already off to a good start in 2017. He led the Eagles in special teams snaps with 126 (74 percent) and was tied for the team lead in special teams tackles with six. 

How the heck do you replace that? 

"I don't think you'll ever be able to fill Chris' role," tight end and special teamer Trey Burton said. "He plays such a big role on special teams. He was able to do so much, but we're going to have to do something. Everybody's going to have to step up."

Head coach Doug Pederson said it will be "tough" to replace Maragos, but the team will probably do it with a committee approach at first. That means more Corey Graham and Jaylen Watkins. Even recently signed draft pick Nate Gerry will have a role if he's active. 

Perhaps the bigger loss will be Maragos' leadership. He's one of just five players on the team who has won a Super Bowl, and he's always happy to answer any questions his teammates have — about football or life. 

In his absence, Goode said he and Burton will attempt to fulfill that leadership void as much as possible. 

"It's really tough," Burton said. "That's my best friend. Him not being here, being around as much. It's tough for him too because he's out of the loop on things and doesn't really know. He would love to be here and in meetings and stuff but he's not going to be able to."

While Maragos won't be around for a while, Burton expects him to visit more once he's healed more. And he'll certainly be watching. 

"Heart's heavy, but I lift my eyes," Maragos tweeted on Thursday. "I'll miss being out there with my brothers but I promise you this, I'll be back stronger!"

That's good news for 2018, but the Eagles will have to go the rest of the season without him. Maragos apparently had a message for his teammates. 

"He knows injuries happen," Goode said. "We play full speed and that's something that comes with the game. His whole thing — Chris is a great team dude — was that we keep propelling and keep getting better for the future." 

Eagles Injury Report: Ronald Darby practices for second straight day

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Eagles Injury Report: Ronald Darby practices for second straight day

Ronald Darby is practicing for the second straight day. 

The Eagles' cornerback, who missed the last five games with a right ankle dislocation he suffered in the opener, was back on the field on Friday afternoon after being a limited participant in Thursday's practice. 

During the portion of practice open to reporters, Darby went through warmups and individual drills. He also spent some 1-on-1 time working on technique with defensive backs coach Cory Undlin. It's likely Darby will be listed as a limited participant on Friday afternoon when the official report comes out. Earlier in the week, head coach Doug Pederson said the "stars have to align" for Darby to play on Monday night. 

In addition to Darby, it looked like every other member of the Eagles' 53-man roster was on the practice field Friday. While the Eagles have dealt with plenty of injuries this season, they seem pretty healthy heading into Monday's game against Washington. 

Beau Allen (foot), Jordan Hicks (calf) and Tim Jernigan (ankle), who were all limited on Thursday were practicing at the start of Friday's session. 

So were all the full participants from Thursday: Fletcher Cox (calf), Brandon Graham (shoulder), Lane Johnson (concussion), Wendell Smallwood (knee) and Destiny Vaeao (wrist). 

Pederson said on Thursday that the plan for Smallwood was to start him off slow this week and ramp it up, so it was a little bit of a surprise that he was a full participant to begin the week. The Eagles will throw him back into the mix immediately on Monday. Expect him to be their third-down back.