Lane Johnson growing in shadows

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly has a knack for flipping problems over until they look like opportunities.

Case in point: Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson will miss the first four games of the regular season because of a suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing drugs. That is a problem, for Johnson and the team.

But Kelly has talked throughout camp about how Johnson's time on the second team has sped the 2013 first-round pick's progress from a mental aspect. Last season, as a rookie, Johnson got the line calls from right guard Todd Herremans.

"The one by-product of it is he doesn't rely on Todd to tell him what's going on," Kelly said Wednesday. "He's really taken some ownership in that second group because he's really the veteran in that group. It's given him an opportunity to grow in the mental side of the game. We've seen a lot of growth from him from that standpoint. When he gets an opportunity to line up next to Todd, it's like he's going to forget what Todd looks like."

It's true. When Johnson lines up with the second team, he is next to guard Dennis Kelly, whose only game experience has been as a tackle in Andy Reid's scheme. Center David Molk, guard Matt Tobin and left tackle Andrew Gardner all have less experience than Johnson.

"I feel a lot more confident just knowing my job," Johnson said after a second day of practicing against the New England Patriots. "Going out there with Dennis, who's kind of new to guard, we're just trying to get on the same level communication-wise. I'm taking the reins. It really has helped me, in that light."

The situation is a little more awkward than it looks. Johnson can participate in training camp, but he may not be around the team -- not in the NovaCare Complex, not on the practice field -- during the four weeks he is suspended. While Johnson would benefit from working with Herremans and the other starters, Kelly has to get backup Allen Barbre as prepared as possible to play the first four games.

"We have to get Allen ready," Kelly said. "The big thing for us is, we're getting ready for our first game against Jacksonville. We've got to play four games without him. So we've got to get Allen as many reps as we can."

When the Eagles get ready to prepare for their fifth game of the season, against the St. Louis Rams, Johnson will suddenly be there. He hopes to be ready to step right in, but it may require some re-entry time.

"It's going to be difficult," Johnson said. "I'm trying to stay on the same page with what they're doing, as far as offensive schemes. You've just got to stay on top of that."