Eagles Wake-Up Call: Can Lane Johnson Make the Leap?
In some ways, Lane Johnson has become a forgotten man on the Eagles offensive line.
Jason Kelce has emerged as a team spokesman of sorts. Jason Peters gets national accolades every year. And there’s been plenty of talk about Allen Barbre and Matt Tobin, guys who will be asked to take on bigger roles in 2015.
Many expected Johnson to make the second-year leap in 2014, but he was suspended for the first four games of the season and couldn’t even be in the team facility until the end of September.
“You could tell in the first game that he had been away from it a little bit in the Rams game,” said offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland. “And then you could see as the year went on he progressively improved and got better.”
Johnson improved in pass protection, and while he was fine as a run blocker, he’s yet to become a consistent, dominating force. This offseason, he decided to try something new, spending time at Jay Glazer’s Unbreakable Performance Center in West Hollywood, Calif.
“I just wanted to do something different,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys will hit the weights and get strong like that, but when they come out here, they can’t utilize it. So I just wanted to do something to get better with my hips and get better with my hands. As far as conditioning wise, that’s why I went out there.
“A lot of stuff we did there is a lot of body on body work, like wrestling and stuff like that, same stuff we’re doing out here. Run blocking, we’re body on body, so it just gives you a way to get functional strength involved instead of always lifting and doing stuff like that.”
Mr. Glazer then turned his attention to the Eagles’ Mr. Johnson, putting him through a pummeling drill drawn from Greco-Roman wrestling. Mr. Glazer is fond of reminding people that he’s “a 5-foot-7-inch Jew” (except when he says he’s 5-foot-7⅛), so his matchup with the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Mr. Johnson looked approximately like a dachshund taking on a Great Dane. But Mr. Glazer was relentless, and for Mr. Johnson to triumph, he had to get his hips lower than Mr. Glazer’s, no mean feat. In his first two days of training with Mr. Glazer, Mr. Johnson threw up nine times from his efforts to hold his own.
Given the uncertainty at both guard spots, the Eagles need Johnson to take another step in his development. The plan seems clear: continue to grow at right tackle, and eventually take over for Jason Peters on the left side.
“I feel quick, I’ve been playing real low, my hands have been good,” Johnson said. “So I feel like I’m right where I need to be.”
Asked what Johnson needs to do to take the next step, Peters said, “Just keep doing what he’s doing. He’s a hard worker. He always listens to me. I give him different pointers, and he takes it out there on the field and just lets it go. I just tell him try not to dwell on one play and keep it moving.”
Given his elite athleticism and willingness to take coaching, Johnson’s ceiling is high.
“Lane is a pleasure to coach,” Stoutland said. “He really believes in what the coaches are telling him. We had an issue today where I said something to him, and immediately the next play he did what we asked him to and he had success. …He trusts us when we tell him something and what we’re seeing.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
Here is a way too early stab at projecting the Eagles 53-man roster.
What kind of role will Jordan Matthews play in 2015?
Don’t forget to order your Eagles Almanac if you haven’t done so already.
And finally, the NBA draft is tonight. Be sure to check out our special Sixers Draftland section with Derek Bodner. Tons of good information over there to get you ready for this evening.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice offers notes for each defensive position:
Remember last offseason when everyone was killing Bennie Logan because the Saints converted a bunch of third and fourth down conversions in the 2013 playoffs? While the Eagles often got destroyed in the passing game in 2014, there’s no longer much to complain about in regard to Logan or the rest of the defensive line in the run game. Last season, the Eagles gave up just 3.7 yards per carry, which was tied for fourth best in the NFL. They also gave up first downs on 18.6% of opposing offenses’ rushes (sixth in the NFL), and they were one of just four teams not to give up a rush of over 40 yards.
The Eagles’ run D was excellent last year, and six of their front seven starters will be back in 2015.
David Murphy of the Daily News compares Kelly’s personnel methods to Bill Belichick’s:
I’m not sure Chip Kelly can pull off the sawed-off hoodie look. And he has way too much fun ribbing reporters to ever become a press- conference minimalist. But when you look at his philosophy in constructing an NFL roster, it’s hard not to note a Belichickian influence. And that’s something in which fans should take solace. Because for all of the skepticism that Kelly has invited with some of his moves, he also seems to have ripped many of them straight out of the Patriots’ Guidebook for Sustained Success.
Take for instance, the autumn of 2010, which was pretty much the most Patriot-like couple of months in history. Coming off a disappointing 10-6 season, Belichick refused to budge on a new contract for Logan Mankins and the Pro Bowl guard held out for the first 6 weeks of the season. In Week 2, the Patriots traded away Laurence Maroney, their leading rusher the previous season. Their biggest move came in Week 5, when Belichick got rid of Randy Moss, who had caught 83 passes for 1,264 yards the previous season. By Week 6, the Patriots were playing without their best wideout, best rusher and best guard from the previous season.
Do the Eagles have the best backfield in the NFL?