Every conversation about the Eagles’ offensive line seems to start out with … “IF Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks are healthy …”
Both three-time Pro Bowl offensive linemen are huge question marks right now, both in their 30s, both coming off major surgeries, both hoping to return to form in 2021.
Johnson has been dealing with a left ankle injury that dates back to the London game against the Jaguars in October of 2018. He underwent tightrope surgery to repair the injury in August of 2020 but only managed to play seven games last year, leaving four of them early, before finally shutting down and undergoing another operation.
Brooks has suffered season-ending injuries in each of the last three seasons — a left Achilles during the 2018 postseason, a shoulder injury late in 2019 and then a right Achilles a year ago this week. All three required surgery.
When healthy, Jason Kelce, Brooks and Johnson form one of the NFL’s most dominating offensive line right sides.
But Brooks and Johnson haven’t both been healthy at the end of a season since 2017. And you know what happened then.
Jeff Stoutland, the Eagles’ offensive line coach under Chip Kelly, Doug Pederson and now Nick Sirianni, updated the statuses of Johnson and Brooks on Wednesday.
And the news was encouraging.
“Watching them on the field here the last couple weeks. I mean, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “I’m being honest. I’m being straight-out honest. I’m watching Brandon Brooks … I did not know what to expect, I’ll be honest with you, and I told Brandon, I don’t know what to expect (from you). He came in blazing off the ball. I know it’s just no pads on and I know we’re striking bags, but he was striking the bag now. The young fellows who were holding that bag? They felt him.”
The Eagles didn’t have any 7-on-7 or 11-on-11 drills during their stripped-down spring practice sessions, but Brooks was a full participant and barring any setbacks will be the Eagles’ starting right guard on opening day.
Johnson might not be quite as advanced as Brooks — his surgery wasn’t until late November or early December — but Stoutland raved about him as well.
“Lane Johnson? After what he went through with the foot? His change of direction and his quickness? Is he 100 percent, but he’s damn close.”
That’s Stoutland’s way of saying Johnson impressed him during these recent practices, and with seven weeks before training camp and three months until opening day, he seems confident that the Eagles will be 100 percent on the O-line, with Johnson, Brooks, Kelce, Isaac Seumalo and either Andre Dillard or Jordan Mailata.
With a young quarterback and a new head coach and a new offense, having the offensive line intact will be huge.
And along the way the Eagles found themselves some capable backups, like Nate Herbig, who started seven games in place of Brooks at right guard (and three at left guard) and Jack Driscoll, who started four games in place of Johnson at right tackle.
“I feel good (about where they are), and I think (the injuries) are part of the reason we have some good depth right now across the board,” Stoutland said. “I think with what happened last year, everyone’s making sure there’s enough depth so if things don’t go right they’re covered.”
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