For Lane Johnson, the low point came in Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The No. 4 overall pick in 2013 got beat for a pair of sacks and missed his assignment on the Eagles’ swinging gate two-point conversion attempt.
“Kansas City was a rough game,” Johnson said Monday after practice. “It was really early in the year. The thing was just to learn from it and continue to grow from it. So that’s what I did.”
Johnson showed steady improvement in the second half of the year as the Eagles won seven of their last eight games. There was never a question about his ability as a run blocker. Aside from the mental mistakes that plague most rookies, Johnson’s elite athleticism translated to the field right away. He is a natrural fit at right tackle in Chip Kelly’s spread-to-run offense.
Where Johnson showed improvement (and the area he’ll need to continue to work on) is his pass blocking.
“Just over-setting most of the time,” he said. “It just comes down to knowing your assignment. Sometimes when I wasn’t sure of things, you kind of put yourself out there on a limb and you have to deal with some of that stuff. So the main thing was learning the offense. I think now I know a lot more. I feel a lot more confident this year than I did last year.”
As a rookie, Johnson didn’t want to get beat off the edge by speed rushers. That led to over-setting, which means he got too far outside/upfield, allowing opposing rushers to come back inside and get to the quarterback.
Take this example from the Chiefs game mentioned above. Johnson is tasked with blocking OLB Justin Houston one-on-one.
Todd Herremans is going to double-team the nose tackle, leaving Johnson essentially on an island.
Johnson initially does a good job on Houston, but look at the huge inside rush lane that gets exposed.
That allows Houston a path to sack Vick.
In addition to footwork, Johnson said he really improved his hand usage later in the season. That’s something the coaches pointed out after his Week 9 performance against the Raiders.
“Raiders was probably my best game,” he said. “I just felt like every play I did was really good. I just feel like I extended my game there and knew I had the ability and just tried to carry it on through the rest of the season.
“[The coaches] said: ‘You’re progressing really well. Just keep on working on it.’ Just my hand usage I think was on another level that game. So they just wanted to see that more the rest of the season.”
Added Johnson’s teammate Jason Kelce: “Lane really came on strong, especially the second half of the season, especially in his pass pro. We’re really excited. He’s put on some weight and he looks like he is going to be a dominating run force as well this year – not that he wasn’t last year. It’s just that he’s a big, athletic guy, you want that all the time. He’s going to be a great player. We truly lucked out in that draft and got one of the really good young players. I think we got the best tackle in that draft, so we’re excited to have him back.”
With his rookie season in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to for Johnson to focus on what’s next. As the No. 4 overall pick, there are going to be lofty expectations. During Johnson’s exit interview in January, coaches told him to first rest up. Last year, he went from the college football season to the Senior Bowl to the combine to private workouts to the draft to mini-camps and OTAs. There was never a time to recover.
Johnson has also added weight. He played last year at 310, but is currently between 315 and 320. His lower body, specifically, was a focus. After working out in Texas and Oklahoma, Johnson spent some time in Arizona, training at LeCharles Bentley’s facility for offensive linemen.
Going into Year 2, Johnson believes he has the tools and confidence necessary to make a significant leap.
“Just getting comfortable in the offense,” he said. “Coming from college where you’ve been playing in a certain scheme for four years, you’ve got it down pat. You feel confident. The main thing was just kind of getting used to the offense and getting my confidence up to where you know you can do certain things. So confidence was a big boost.
“I’m trying to be a dominant player. I know I have the ability. It’s just a matter of being consistent with it because there’s times where I showed flashes of being a really good player, and then there’s other times where I didn’t. So I’m just trying to be more consistent this year.”