PHILADELPHIA -- Around this time last year, the Philadelphia Eagles lost right tackle Lane Johnson. The Eagles were 3-1, as they are now, but proceeded to drop eight of their next 10 to fall out of playoff contention as Johnson served a second suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drugs policy.
Johnson says he still thinks about it every day, and is reminded of how he let his teammates down every time he walks into the team's practice facility.
On game days, the opposition sometimes brings it to the surface. That happened on Sunday in Los Angeles when one of the Chargers players spotted him pregame.
"Damion Square this week, he came in," Johnson said. "We were actually in the weight room so it was kind of a see-through, there was a tent set up, and he said. 'What's up 'Roid Boy?' So I was like, 'All right.' So whenever we got on the field, we settled it."
Square used to play in Philadelphia and is a former teammate of Johnson's.
"He was joking, having fun," Johnson said, "but it's still the kind of stuff that makes you mad a little bit."
Johnson recalls Arizona Cardinals pass-rusher Chandler Jones -- this week's adversary -- saying something to him after his first suspension when he was with the New England Patriots. Johnson hears chatter from time to time and uses it as motivation.
"Sometimes [the opposition talks], but usually whenever you're trying to kick somebody's butt, if you're doing well, all the talking kind of stops," he said. "JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul], before the game against the Giants, was all dancing around, doing this, doing that, but it all comes down to how you're playing on the field."
Opponents haven't had much to celebrate while going against Johnson this year, and we're talking about some heavy hitters. Already he's faced Pierre-Paul, Joey Bosa, Ryan Kerrigan and Justin Houston. That foursome had a combined 1-1/2 sacks against the Eagles, with Johnson holding his own.
"I've still got Von Miller and Khalil Mack, that's just how it is this season," he said. "I think the left tackle-right tackle dilemma is kind of disappearing. I think in this league you have to have two pretty good tackles."
The Eagles are in good shape there with Johnson on the right side and Jason Peters on the left. They're the bookends to a line that has really come into its own the last couple weeks. After the win over the Chargers, in which the Eagles rushed for over 200 yards, RB LeGarrette Blount said of the O-line: "I feel like hands-down they are one of the best in this league."
Johnson is a big part of that. Since the start of the 2016 season, the Eagles are 8-2 with him in the lineup and 2-8 without him. While his presence (or absence) is certainly not the only reason for those records, it's a significant factor.
Believing his second positive test was the result of a tainted supplement he bought online, Johnson has sworn off supplements altogether while focusing on his diet more. Weighing between 320-325 pounds, Johnson says he is as heavy as he's ever been and feels he's "playing stronger." Asked if his experience has made him a better player, Johnson allowed that he is now mentally tougher.
"Last year, it still weighs on my mind all the time, so every time I'm on the field I just to go play my best," he said. "I feel like we're in a good situation, everything is right in front of us; we have a good team and I think we're improving each week, so I think we're right where we need to be."