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August 21, 2017

Baffling Lane Johnson owes the Eagles and their fans a helluva lot more

After sleepwalking through the Eagles’ second preseason game, Lane Johnson needs a wake-up call. Apparently, he still doesn’t understand how important he is to the team. Apparently, he doesn’t comprehend the debt he owes to his teammates and the city.

Moved to left tackle after Jason Peters was excused for personal reasons, Johnson spent the first quarter against Buffalo doing his best impersonation of a turnstile, allowing a sack that endangered the well-being of quarterback Carson Wentz and providing no holes for running back LeGarrette Blount.

In a word, Johnson stunk.

Now, it would be convenient to dismiss the bad night to the preseason blahs, or to the different position, or to Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, but Johnson really had no valid excuses for the disinterest he displayed. He has practiced often during training camp at left tackle – including in the past week – and he is, after all, a first-round draft pick.

Since he arrived here as the fourth selection in 2013, Johnson has been an enigma. When he has played, he has often excelled. For example, last season the Eagles were 5-1 with him in the lineup, 2-8 when he was out. He can be dominant when he is in the proper mood and he isn’t violating the NFL drug policies.

The problem is, you never know what you’re going to get from the 6-6, 317-pound Texas native. Somehow, after a four-game suspension in his second season, he found a way to test positive for performance-enhancing drugs again in 2016, costing him 10 more contests. The next violation would knock him out for two years.

“I let the team down,” he said at the end of last season. “I felt like we had a lot of momentum. I felt like we should have been 4-0 after the Detroit game. It sucks the way it is. It's all on me. All I can do is play. I can talk all day about it. I have to prove it through the rest of my contract.”

Johnson had an odd way of showing his remorse last Thursday night. The tape doesn’t lie, and neither does my co-host at WIP, 14-year NFL veteran Hollis Thomas, who said the tackle should have been embarrassed by his performance. Thomas referred to Johnson as “a pigeon,” his word to describe an easy mark for the opponent.

The most frustrating part of the situation is that Johnson was only being asked to play one quarter – two series, at most, if the offense functioned effectively – and it was more than he was willing to do. How can the team count on him to play hard for 16 games if one quarter is too demanding?

And here’s an even more ominous question: Can the Eagles follow through on their plan to replace Peters with Johnson sometime soon when Johnson remains so unreliable? The worst-case scenario is that the 35-year-old Peters gets hurt this season, and last Thursday night becomes a coming attraction to disaster.

In his three-plus seasons here, Johnson has consistently perplexed the fans, if not his teammates. He appears level-headed and engaging, at least until he is suddenly neither. Remember, in his third season here – the one when he wasn’t suspended – he launched an attack on the most loyal fan base in sports.

"It’s not really home-field advantage playing here anymore,” he said after a tough loss. “Really, that’s the truth. Cats here, they really don’t care.”

How ironic is that remark after Johnson’s no-show last week? If he had performed that badly in a game that counted, he would have discovered first-hand how much the fans really care.

The bottom line is that it’s time for Lane Johnson to realize his extraordinary potential. It’s time for him to play hard and play smart on every snap, and not when he feels like it. It’s time for him to pay back the debt from last season.

It’s time for him to wake up.


Ronald Darby sure knows how to make an entrance, doesn’t he?

The first elite cornerback the Eagles have had in a decade arrived in Philadelphia after a controversial trade last week and made a great first impression with some brilliant play in his first preseason game with his new team.

Darby nearly intercepted an early throw by Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor before closing fast on a deep ball, snaring it away from Anquan Boldin, and zig-zagging his way up the field for 48 yards back up the field. The 23-year-old pass defender came as advertised, with 4.3 speed, quick reflexes and a sense for the ball.

Before and after the game, he won over some doubters by calling the deal “a blessing,” and then quickly adding: “I’m just happy to be somewhere.”

The first few days after GM Howie Roseman traded popular wide receiver Jordan Matthews and a third-round pick for Darby were a bit bumpy in Eagle-land. Matthews was a solid receiver but an even better teammate, widely regarded as the closest friend to quarterback Carson Wentz.

In fact, Wentz himself drove Matthews to the airport after the deal, and nearly broke down when addressing the media a day later. The quarterback acknowledged the wisdom of addressing the weakest position on the team, but also said it was difficult to deal with on a human level.

Meanwhile, Bills fans hated the deal, for several reasons. It was accompanied by the trade of a far better receiver, Sammy Watkins, to the Los Angeles Rams, and Matthews fractured his sternum during his first practice at Buffalo training camp. He will be out indefinitely, in his free-agent walk year. Bad for them.

But great for Eagles fans, who are already warming up to a cornerback who can counteract great NFC East receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant, and who is happy to be away from freezing Buffalo and in a football hotbed like ours.

Welcome to Philadelphia, Ronald. You got here just in time.


When the NBA selected the Sixers for 14 national TV games in 2017-18, the league was taking a calculated risk that main attraction Joel Embiid would be healthy for most of those contests. Good luck with that.

The Sixers got only three national games last season, and none for the three seasons before that. Yes, they have other interesting stories this season – for example, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz – but Embiid is the player who will get casual fans to watch. His talent and charisma are the future of the game, if he can stay on the court.

Of course, after three seasons in which he missed 215 out of 246 games, that is a major question – one that keeps growing bigger with the silence of the Sixers over his current rehab. Embiid had the meniscus in his left knee repaired on March 25, nearly five months ago. He has still not been cleared to resume all basketball activities.

Jessica Camerato, who covers the Sixers for Comcast Sportsnet, reported last week that Embiid was “on pace” in his recovery, but that there was still no timetable for his return. Huh? How can he be on pace if there’s no schedule? It was just more gobbledygook from the Sixers.

One of the top knee surgeons in the country, Dr. Todd Chertow of Novacare, said on my WIP radio show last week that many players can be back on the court in a matter of weeks after the surgery, and rarely more than three or four months later. In other words, Embiid should have been cleared weeks ago, if not months.

Is this another case of a much more complicated rehab than expected – remember, Embiid’s broken foot cost him two full seasons – or is it just the latest example of the Sixers not caring enough to inform their fans.

Stay tuned. No one will be watching this story more closely than the NBA and the TV networks.

And finally …

     • In case you missed it, No. 1 draft pick Derek Barnett had another sack in the Eagles’ second preseason game, giving him three so far. The over-under by the so-called NFL experts for sacks this season is 4½. Yeah, right. Barnett will have more than that by Halloween. Here’s a more reasonable over-under for the amazing young pass-rusher from Tennessee: 10.

     • Jason Kelce is more than a six-year NFL veteran with two Pro-Bowl appearances on his resume; he is also a leader in the Eagles’ clubhouse. Still, if the team’s running problems continue, Kelce’s starting role will receive more scrutiny than ever. He is undersized, on a line that must create holes for power runner LeGarrette Blount. If Kelce can’t do it, someone else has to get a chance to replace him. There’s no room for sentiment in the NFL.

     • Flyers president Paul Holmgren said last week that the Flyers are now ready to challenge for the playoffs. Oh, really? They have missed the postseason twice in the past three years, and now they’re ready? Here’s the way I look at it: If they don’t make the playoffs next season, Holmgren and GM Ron Hextall both need to go. With the late chairman Ed Snider no longer there, loyalty to ex-Flyers should have its limits.

     • Jorge Alfaro, the Phillies’ catcher of the future, started at first base on Saturday night in San Francisco, while Cameron Rupp, not the Phillies’ catcher of the future, worked behind the plate. This talent development program masterminded by GM Matt Klentak really is brilliant, isn’t it? The team is 31 games under .500, and Rupp is still catching more than Alfaro. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

     • Congratulations to WFAN, sister station of WIP, for telling New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to forget about a full-time gig as a talk-show host. After careful reflection, management realized that a blowhard Cowboys fan probably wouldn’t play well in New York Giants country. Now, what will Christie do when his term ends next January? I’d tell him to go jump off a bridge, but I hear the traffic there today is terrible.