There was a strong sense of satisfaction when the Philadelphia Eagles selected offensive tackle Lane Johnson with the 4th overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Even though rumors abound that Eagles head coach Chip Kelly truly coveted his former University of Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan, Lane Johnson was a great consolation prize after the Miami Dolphins pilfered Jordan before Philadelphia’s selection. Johnson was highly regarded for his versatility and athleticism, and he definitely filled a need for an offensive line that had struggled the previous season. After an up and down rookie campaign, a breakdown of Johnson’s season shows there is still room for improvement.
After being inserted into the starting lineup at right tackle from day one, and starting all 16 games and the playoff game against the New Orleans Saints, one could consider that season as a success based on those facts alone. Johnson displayed durability and an ability to adapt to change quickly. This trait was aided by his flexibility in college, as he played both left and right tackle at the University of Oklahoma. Right tackles typically don’t get drafted in the top 5 though, so I love the fact that Johnson didn’t complain one bit about not being on the left side. Of course it’s a lot easier to accept the switch when the left tackle you are trying to supplant happens to be All – Pro Jason Peters. Still, Johnson’s team first, worker’s attitude fit in perfectly with Chip Kelly’s philosophy.
There were some early season struggles as any rookie would’ve been expected to have. Defensive coordinators flip flopped their elite pass rushers to Johnson’s side, and designed exotic blitzes to test his football IQ. There was a obvious attempt to expose the weak link on the Eagles offensive line, and to some extent it worked. But around mid season the light switched on for Johnson, and though Pro Football Focus credited him with allowing 10 sacks and 57 pressures for the year, he graded out much better in the second half. This is encouraging, and a testament to the work ethic and mental makeup of the young player.
Johnson was an important addition to an offensive line that paved the way for the league’s leading rusher, and protected the league’s leader in quarterback rating. I would say his major struggles came in pass protection against pass rushers with counter moves. He showed enough lateral quickness to not get beat to his outside by the speed rush, but at times he would open his base too wide in protecting that shoulder, thus making himself vulnerable to the inside counter. It will be interesting to see the chess match evolve next season, because defenses are like sharks when they smell blood in the water. So either Chip Kelly and staff will need to protect Johnson by scheme, or hopefully his film and technique work this off season have improved on this weakness.
Johnson was phenomenal in the run game and displayed a tenacity and power that you might not expect from his frame. I was impressed with his ability to drive defenders off the ball. He also was adept at reaching the second level and destroying linebackers on powers and counter runs. He is a great fit for Kelly’s run game.
With Peters being locked up on a long term contract, it may be a few seasons before he passes the torch to his heir apparent Johnson. This will allow the young man to hone his craft even more without playing in the spotlight of the marquee left tackle position. If his growth path continues on the same track as his rookie season, his tremendous potential should be fulfilled sooner than later. This should have Eagles fans pretty excited for the future.