Lane Johnson watched the Philadelphia Eagles lose one offensive lineman after another, worked out hard in Texas and waited for a chance to return to help his teammates.
Johnson lined up at right tackle on Tuesday in his first practice since rejoining the team following a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He gives a beleaguered line a much-needed boost going into Sunday's game against St. Louis (1-2).
"It wasn't fun feeling helpless," Johnson said about not being around the team. "I'm just a bystander. It's definitely on your mind, and what's worse is seeing your guys, teammates getting injured."
Johnson wasn't allowed to communicate with coaches during his suspension, but stayed in contact with teammates. He stayed in shape by working out at Athletes Performance Institute in Frisco, Texas.
The Eagles (3-1) lost All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis for two months in the season opener. Allen Barbre, who replaced Johnson, suffered a season-ending ankle injury in that game. Center Jason Kelce is out indefinitely after sports hernia surgery last week.
With a makeshift line, the Eagles haven't had much success running the ball. LeSean McCoy, an All-Pro last year, is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry. Coach Chip Kelly's lack of confidence in the line was evident when he had Nick Foles throw twice from the 1 with the game on the line in a 26-21 loss at San Francisco.
Johnson's return allows Todd Herremans to return to right guard, giving the Eagles three starters at their regular positions. Matt Tobin remains in Mathis' spot and David Molk is filling for Kelce.
"Obviously we had a few different plays, different schemes thrown in, but I learned that in the meetings, came out and felt good," Johnson said after practice. "Tomorrow will be full pads and we'll get back to real football. Just getting back out here and getting a few plays under your belt, and kind of getting back into the rhythm of it. Basically that's all it is, a rhythm. Once you get in practice every day, day in and day out, it gets to a second nature."
There was no hesitation about putting Johnson right back into the lineup despite his absence the past month. Johnson, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2013 draft, started 17 games last year, including the playoffs. He helped pave the way for McCoy to set a franchise record in yards rushing.
"He's in great shape," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "He kind of informed us what he was doing. He did what he could to stay in shape and kind of watched things from afar. We'll put him in there and get him going."
While Johnson practiced, three key players were on the sideline. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks hasn't been out since injuring his calf in Week 2. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was a surprise non-participant and cornerback Brandon Boykin hurt his hamstring against the 49ers. Maclin said he's fine and it's likely he'll be rested occasionally as he continues his return following ACL surgery last year.
AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP_RobMaaddi