Why Eagles star Lane Johnson thought his football career was over

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Why Lane Johnson thought his football career was over originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

He feared his career was over.

Lane Johnson shed some light Friday on last year’s absence from football, saying doubts about his future led to the bout of depression that sidelined him for three games.

And it was an ankle injury that dated back to 2018 that led him to question whether he could continue playing.

“Mentally, a lot of what was on my mind last year was my ankle,” Johnson said after practice. “Honestly, I was at the point where I didn’t know if I can play anymore because I couldn’t push off my left foot.”

Johnson left the team last year after the Week 3 loss to the Cowboys and returned home to Oklahoma to deal with lingering mental health issues. He missed games against the Chiefs, Panthers and Buccaneers before rejoining the team.

The Eagles went 7-3 after he returned and were the No. 1 rushing team in the league.

Johnson first injured his left ankle in the London game against the Jaguars in October 2018. He only missed one game initially but wound up undergoing minor surgery after the season, then another more involved procedure after his 2020 season was cut short after just seven games. He underwent another procedure later that offseason.

But even after all that, when last year’s training camp started out, he still didn’t feel right.

“Pass blocking I was fine,” he said. “But run blocking?

"I felt like earlier in my career I was a 747 and now I was a twin-engine piece of bleep.”

There were other mental health issues, some of which dated back to Johnson’s JUCO football days. But doubts about his career grew stronger and stronger.

Johnson was in his ninth season, he was 31 years old — he's 32 now — and he just didn’t know if he’d ever be the same guy again.

“You can see from the tape at the beginning of last year, I couldn’t run block the way I’m used to, the way I’m used to playing,” he said. “It was frustrating. I couldn’t push off the way I needed to. I just wasn’t the same guy.”

Johnson’s return in late October came one week before the Eagles became a power running team in Detroit. He still wasn’t 100 percent, but he felt a lot better than he had.

And now?

For the first time since the middle of 2018, he feels like his old self.

More: Johnson takes a top 5 spot on list of most important Eagles

“Last year, that’s all I was thinking about,” he said. “I could feel it in every drill. It never felt the same. But with injuries like that it takes a while for it to heal. When you get a surgery like that it heals back very tight and it takes a while to get that flexion back.

“They say sometimes it takes a year, a year and a half (after the surgery), to feel normal. Really, it was just like I had one foot I could propel on, the other one was very tight. It just didn’t feel like I could run.

"Last season before training camp I didn’t do any running. I couldn’t run. I could hobble. I could get out of my stance. I could make do. But that was on my mind constantly. This year is totally different.”

Getting Johnson back to where he was earlier in his career, when he made three straight Pro Bowls and a 1st-team all-pro, would be huge for the Eagles.

Johnson is smart and savvy and skilled enough that he can get by when he’s not 100 percent. 

But when he is 100 percent? He’s one of the best right tackles in football. Maybe the best.

Johnson said he’s bigger than he’s ever been at this stage — 325 to 330 pounds — and credits his fitness level to a new offseason emphasis on flexibility in addition to power.

"Feel good and trying to stack the days," he said. "It’s not on my mind like last year, where it took me midway through the season to kind of feel comfortable again playing.

“I’m in a great head space now, I feel comfortable and glad to be back, man.”

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