Eagles defensive coordinator Johnson taking leave for cancer treatment

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has taken an indefinite leave of absence while he continues treatment for a cancerous tumor on his spine.

"Jim and I agreed that he needs to concentrate all of his efforts on his recovery," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in a statement released by the team Monday. "His health is No. 1."

Johnson, 67, complained of back pain in early January, and he coached from the press box during a playoff victory over the New York Giants and the Eagles' loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game. An MRI after the playoff victory over the Giants on Jan. 11 alerted doctors that something might be wrong.

Johnson was treated for melanoma in 2001. Following the loss to the Cardinals, the Eagles announced that Johnson's cancer had returned.

"He's struggling," Reid said Monday. "But he's a tough guy and a true battler."

Johnson had recovered sufficiently enough to coach during Philadelphia's first post-draft minicamp earlier this month. But he coached from a motorized scooter during practices and said wasn't sure if he could return to the field for the 2009 season.

"It's too early to tell," Johnson said May 2. "I'm taking this one day at a time or one camp at a time. I'll just keep working at it, and as long as I can hold my work schedule, I'll feel fine, and we'll just see how it goes."

Reid said he hopes Johnson, who has spent the last 10 years as the Eagles' defensive coordinator, is able to return to the team soon.

"I hope everyone will keep him in their thoughts and prayers during this period of time," Reid said.

Johnson is known for his aggressive, attacking style and has played a significant role in the Eagles' success. Last season, Philadelphia finished third in the league in total defense and fourth in points allowed as it advanced to the NFC title game for the fifth time in the last 10 years.

Secondary coach Sean McDermott will run the defense in Johnson's absence.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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