In general, a team’s brand-new head coach, especially a first-time head coach, needs to have all his key players in place when the games start. Not necessarily for the preseason opener, not in uniform or on the field, but it helps him to know who he can count on.
No such luck for the Eagles’ Doug Pederson, then. His debut Thursday night in Philadelphia against the Buccaneers makes him one of the first two new coaches to take the field this season. Coincidentally, the other is opposing coach Dirk Koetter. However, he has a problem Koetter doesn’t: The likely long absence of a crucial offensive player. Tackle Lane Johnson faces a 10-game performance-enhancing drug suspension, according to reports.
Suddenly, the preseason opener is more complicated, which is saying a lot for what Pederson already faced. He replaced Chip Kelly, he installed a new offensive system, the front office undid lots of Kelly’s moved and stirred up the roster and he’s already had to navigate a brief offseason quarterback clash involving Sam Bradford and the franchise’s future cornerstone, Carson Wentz.
MORE: First-year coaches with biggest challenges
Now, barring complete exoneration of Johnson in his appeal, Pederson has to replace a vital component of his offense, for as many as 10 regular-season games, at a very vulnerable position — one that the Eagles drafted Johnson three years ago to solidify.
How vulnerable? Left tackle Jason Peters, who strained his quad last week, is one of the Eagles sitting out the opener. That’s nothing unusual or worrisome, and actually is par for the course across the league for the first preseason game.
Still, Peters is 34 and was hurt much of last season … and Johnson, the starter on the right side, was drafted to be his eventual replacement (and, now, is paying him to be). Pederson had said earlier Tuesday — before the suspension report had gone public — that getting Johnson work on the left side was part of the training camp and preseason plan, even though, for now, he’s still on the right.
“Yeah, I think there would be a time to do that,’’ Pederson told reporters. “Like everything else, this would be the time to get him some work over there. So, that’s something that (offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland) and I will continue to talk about. I think (we would) definitely leave it open to be able to give him a few reps or at least a day over at the left side.”
DIAMOND: Eagles keep making QB situation worse
A possible second PED suspension in three years would make a mess of that plan for this season and add to the turmoil of trying to rebuild a line that was a mess in Kelly’s final, disastrous season last year.
The shake-ups at the skill posi