Distractions are the one thing that no one can predict, and the one thing with the ability to derail a season. The Philadelphia Eagles begin their 2014 season with the bar set high in terms of expectations based on last year’s run. With limited injuries, and players that really didn’t get hurt, the Birds powered through the season, growing game by game as they went. For a rookie coach in head coach Chip Kelly, many new faces on a retooled team, and coming off one of the worst seasons in recent history, this was as good as it gets. As the page turns to this year, and training camp moves forward, the team must keep the focus on football and eliminate any distractions.
Two distractions already surfaced before the season began, specifically related to right tackle Lane Johnson and safety Keelan Johnson. Apparently, if you have the last name Johnson, lock yourself up in the training camp dorm, and always have an escort until the end of the season! in Lane Johnson’s case, the Iggles lose a strong contributor to the offensive line. It’s a void that will be difficult but not impossible to fill. The player came with enough raw talent that he should be able to return to the team and be productive after serving a 4-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Tackle Andre Barbre will have the opportunity to step up and impress Kelly, or possibly other teams to start the season. The only ray of sunshine in this otherwise gloomy picture is that Johnson admitted he knew the suspension was coming due to taking a prescription (but banned) drug back in April. He did issue an apology, and accepted responsibility for his situation. If only more players would follow his lead.
The second, and more concerning distraction was the news of safety Keelan Johnson’s arrest in Arizona. The Eagles excused this Johnson from training camp to attend to his legal issues, facing charges for allegedly assaulting a police officer after a bar fight. This isn’t a case of prescription drugs causing a failed test. Keelan Johnson should know better, and know what is expected of NFL-caliber players. Kelly has shown that he is not afraid to cut players that don’t fit into the team dynamic, and Johnson appears primed for a quick career in Philadelphia. For his sake, he should accept responsibility for what he did, and hold himself accountable. Again, it goes back to keeping yourself out of situations where things could turn sour. The most troubling part of this situation is that he apparently put his hands on a police officer. Expect nothing less than a multi-game suspension from the NFL.
With the NFL putting more focus on legal and drug-related issues, NFL players have no excuses when it comes to staying out of trouble. They are among some of the most highly compensated athletes, and have access to a lot more resources than the rest of society. The Eagles, on their quest for a Lombardi Trophy, can ill afford to have these distractions on the team. Given the recent public backlash over Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice‘s 2-game suspension for assaulting his wife (fiance at the time), the NFL may continue to tighten the belt for discipline that tarnishes the shield and the team. The Philadelphia Eagles, Kelly, and General Manager Howie Roseman can also send a strong message by shipping troublesome players out of town. For now, these two Johnsons need to get their lives in order, do their time, get back to focusing on football, and keep themselves clean. Their careers, and the Eagles’ season depends on it.