FOR LANE JOHNS0N IT IS SIMPLE: STAY ON THE FIELD AND BE THE BEST
It was the Spring of 2013. Chip Kelly was the new coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and as a result the Eagles were the talk of the football universe.
At this time 32 teams had their undivided attention on the upcoming draft. What would Chip do? Skilled wideout, 3-4 outside linebacker/ pass rusher, or a dual threat quarterback to operate his warped speed no-huddle option offense?
The options for the fourth overall pick was as varied as the opinions.
As an offensive lineman, my sense is that Chip would go offensive line because all he really wanted to do was to spread the field to run the football.
But which lineman fit his offense the best? There would be two offensive lineman that would follow their coach from the national champions at Alabama to the NFL.
Chip’s choice to coach the O-line was Jeff Stoutland. He had two highly touted lineman that would be blue chip high first round selections.
Both Chance Warmack and DJ Fluker would be obvious choices with their familiarity with Stoutland if you were busy trying to connect the dots. At the top of the analysts boards were Eric Fisher from
Central Michigan and the powerful Luke Joeckel from Texas A & M.
On the outside but rising quickly was Lane Johnson from Oklahoma University.
Ever since his amazing performance at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis where he was clearly the best athlete along the O-line. His name and stock climbed quickly up everyone’s boards.
The knock against Lane was that he was a high school quarterback who went to Kilgore Junior College upon graduation to play quarterback. He would transfer to OU after only one year as a quarterback.
Eventually he was moved to tight end and eventually redshirted.
Due to injuries he finally moved to right tackle for a year and then in his final year he switched to the coveted left tackle position.
That is not a resume’ that many teams with the fourth overall pick would pay much attention too.
As we all now know, the Eagles took Lane with the fourth overall pick after Fisher went No.1 to Kansas City and Joeckel went No.2 to Jacksonville.
As soon as the preseason games started that year I went deep into the film room to study how the offensive lineman fared from the 2013 draft. After studying the first two games that summer it was immediately clear that the Eagles’ Lane Johnson was going to be the best offensive lineman in the entire draft.
His movement was fluid. He was always on his feet. And most frustrating of all is he never looked like he struggled regardless of who he played against.
The Eagles would start all five lineman that year all 17 games. They led the league in rushing.
Shady McCoy led the league in rushing. The Eagles won the NFC East and hosted the Saints in a playoff game before losing and ending a very successful season. Optimism was high and Chip Kelly made an immediate impact.
Lane Johnson quietly was as big a reason for the success of the Eagles that season as any other player. He solidified a veteran offensive line. In my opinion the Birds were one of the three best lines in the league.
I hosted a short X/O show with Chip Kelly that season and it was never long before our attention would turn to Lane. If it wasn’t his athleticism that we raved about then it would be his hustle.
Much has changed in Philadelphia since that whirlwind of a season in 2013. One constant is the Eagles are a better team when Lane Johnson lines up and plays right tackle or on occasion left tackle.
The problem with Lane is he has served two separate suspensions totaling 14 games over the past two seasons.
It’s weird. The reasoning is odd. I am not here to judge Lane or even to criticize him for his decisions. But when he is not in the lineup they don’t function as well. He has played 51 games in a row at a very high level, and 14 games he has served on suspension somewhere else beside a playing field.
This year the Eagles got off to a surprisingly fast start going 3-1 with Lane entrenched as the right tackle and the offensive line was humming. And then the forthcoming Lane Johnson suspension kicked in and the season that started with such promise began to unravel.
Lane is the best right tackle in the NFL today. But only if he is active. 14 games is a lot of inactivity. He is not easily replaced. I would not say that the Eagles are a playoff team if Lane stays off the suspension list.
The lack of offensive fire power is still an issue. The defenses inability to stop the explosive plays is still an ongoing problem. There seems to be a lack of development at certain positions that Lane’s presence cannot fix.
But the quarterback, Carson Wentz, looks far more comfortable when he is protected on the edges by Peters and Johnson. It’s one of the best tandems in the NFL. It could and should stay that way for at least another season.
With the development of Seamalo and Big V., and the additions of Stefen Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks the O-line could be a great strength going forward.
To point out how natural Johnson is, I took a look take at his performance on his first game back after serving a 10-week suspension.
They played the Giants on a Thursday night at home. It would be a very short week of preparation.
Lane’s first day back was on a Monday morning. After three days and one full practice, he went out and played 56 plays vs the Giants and wasn’t on the ground one play, and didn’t have one negative play. It was remarkably easy, like it always looks for Lane.
His strength is that in any given game he is almost as good if not a better athlete than the player he is lined up against. Kerrigan, Pierre-Paul, and Crawford are three division opponents that he rarely struggles against because he is as good an athlete as those players. And that is rare for a right tackle.
He must now pass through this off-season and every other off-season with a zero tolerance policy for any type of PED or any foreign substance. It may all be a terrible mix up and maybe with the latest lawsuit he just filed perhaps his name can be cleared a little bit. I wouldn’t count on it.
I have watched a lot of right tackles over my 34 years in this business and Lane Johnson, is one of the best I have observed. I only hope that in his mind that he realizes that he already has everything it takes to be as good as he wants. And that’s without any supplementation at all.