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'It keeps me going': Eagles' Johnson coaching despite cancer

PHILADELPHIA -- Jim Johnson has continued to perform his duties as the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive coordinator while undergoing treatment for skin cancer and said he's feeling "good" and enjoying his work.

Johnson is using a cart to traverse the fields this weekend while the Eagles hold their first minicamp of the offseason. Following practice Saturday morning, he addressed the media for the first time since being diagnosed with a recurrence of melanoma, which has formed a tumor in his spine.

"I feel good," said Johnson, who is walking with a cane. "I appreciate all the concern about my injury. I really do. I'm still going through treatment.

"The biggest thing I'm trying to get now is just the pain in my back. I've got some broken bones in the lower part, so it allows me not to be on my feet quite as much. Everything else, I feel fine. I just keep working at it."

Johnson, who turns 68 on May 26, first was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. The Eagles disclosed the recurrence of cancer in Johnson in January, nearly two weeks after they lost to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship Game.

Because of the pain in his lower back, Johnson coached that game and the divisional-playoff victory over the New York Giants one week earlier from the press box. But Johnson is back on the field for this minicamp -- as he has been for each of the previous 10 years since being hired by coach Andy Reid.

"It's great," Johnson said of coaching at minicamp. "It's a part of my life, and it keeps me going. I don't feel any different coaching. I'm coaching the same way."

Johnson is coaching a unit that lost only one starter -- albeit a big one -- from 2008. Safety Brian Dawkins, who signed a free-agent deal with the DenverĀ Broncos, is the only starter who isn't returning to an Eagles defense that finished third in the league in yards allowed last season.

"The biggest thing is that these guys, the young guys, know the system," Johnson said. "The veterans know the system, which makes it nice, but I have not reduced my work schedule. Like I said, I enjoy coming to work. I enjoy doing this."

Whether Johnson will be able to return to the field during the season is uncertain.

"It's too early to tell," he said. "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."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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