Eagles' No. 1 still growing into his position

ASSOCIATED PRESS Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson hugs commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Eagles with the fourth overall pick.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson hugs commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected by the Eagles with the fourth overall pick.
Posted: April 26, 2013

WE ENVISIONED all sorts of complicated scenarios and harried phone calls in the NovaCare war room, but Chip Kelly said the evening was really pretty simple and sane.

"Exactly as the draft went. We had the three OTs and Dion ," Kelly said, after telling reporters there were four players the Eagles entered the draft feeling they'd be comfortable taking fourth overall. Lane Johnson from Oklahoma, the former quarterback, former tight end, former defensive end, was generally considered the third-best offensive tackle in a draft where OTs were the stars, and he became the newest Eagle last night, taken with the team's highest draft pick since Donovan McNabb arrived second overall in 1999.

"No matter how it fell, we weren't going to be sitting there at four feeling we didn't get our guy," Kelly said.

The other two top OTs, Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel, went 1-2 to the Chiefs and Jaguars, as had been the buzz the previous few days. Then Miami traded up for Oakland's third overall pick. In the media room, we figured the Eagles were sweating this out, wondering if the Dolphins had intentionally moved in front of the Birds to take someone new coach Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman really wanted. Miami took Jordan.

Asked about fielding calls from teams wanting the fourth pick, Kelly said there weren't many, after the Raiders-Dolphins trade. So the Eagles took Johnson, whom Kelly conceded is "raw, in a draft of raw guys," but also "the most athletic offensive tackle we've seen."

Of course, Jordan, the tall, skinny pass rusher, is said to be just as raw, just as much of a calculated gamble as Johnson. Hard to say whether the Eagles would have preferred him over Johnson. Kelly certainly wasn't saying; he announced an aversion to hypothetical questions.

Kelly deflected questions about where Johnson is going to play. One would think right tackle Todd Herremans would move back inside, and Danny Watkins, the struggling 2011 first-rounder, would move back to the bench. But Kelly said that will be determined by how Johnson, Watkins and the other guys practice and play.

Asked last night if he had any thoughts on what this might mean for him, Herremans texted: "Nope . . . Haven't seen play. Heard he's really athletic. Everything will work itself out."

"The game is won up front," Kelly said. "He's another tough, physical guy. That's what we were looking for as we went into this draft."

Johnson, 6-6, 303, said he came into the draft thinking the Eagles were among a handful of teams - Arizona, San Diego, Detroit and Miami were the others he named - who might take him. When Miami traded up, he thought that might be where he was headed, but soon afterward, a 215 area code showed up on his phone, and Johnson knew otherwise.

"I know Oregon ran a very fast-paced offense, it was very similar to Oklahoma," Johnson told a conference call with reporters at NovaCare. "I think I fit with what they need."

Eagles guard Evan Mathis wears Johnson's college number, 69. Mathis tweeted that Johnson couldn't have it. Johnson said that was OK.

Asked which side of the line he prefers, Johnson said: "I really don't care. I try to be as balanced as possible."

Maybe you know the outline of his story by now. Johnson was a quarterback at Groveton (Texas) High and Kilgore College. He was recruited out of Kilgore by Oklahoma as an athlete, landing first at tight end, then at defensive end, but he kept growing, and in the spring of 2011 Sooners coach Bob Stoops looked at Johnson, looked at Oklahoma's injury-ravaged offensive line, and sat Johnson down for a talk.

"When [Stoops] asked me, I wasn't real sure about it," Johnson told the Daily News in January, during Senior Bowl week. "But that was my only chance to get on the field, so that's what I did. said, 'We need ya. I think you'd make a great fit.' "

Johnson developed quickly during his 2 years as an offensive lineman. Stoops told a conference call last night that he and the Oklahoma coaches weren't surprised when Johnson's stock kept rising after the season, because they figured when teams saw him work out, they'd be struck by his potential.

"We felt that his ceiling was probably the highest" of the OTs in this draft, Kelly said. "I think he'll probably pick up what we're doing really quickly."

Kelly said the Eagles had scouted Johnson thoroughly and weren't surprised when he ran a 4.72-second 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"He's got some technical things to work on, he's only played the position 2 years," Kelly acknowledged. "Little nuances of the position, hand placement, things like that . . . He's got unbelievable work ethic. He lives and dies football."

"I think the toughest [transition] actually was from quarterback to tight end," Johnson said yesterday. "From being at such a glorified position to going to tight end, where your hand is in the dirt and there's a lot of physicality involved . . . I had been a skill-position player my whole life."

Stoops and Kelly relayed the same anecdote about how Johnson was struggling to keep his weight within defensive-end range as he grew, Stoops asking the strength coach what it would take to get Johnson to 300 pounds, in order to play on the offensive line. In Kelly's telling, the answer was a week and a cheeseburger. Stoops' version cited the cheeseburger and 2 weeks.

"Sure enough, that was what happened . . . He was a big d-end, physical, tough. We loved him there, to be honest with you," Stoops said. "We saw two practices and we said, 'This is going to be incredible for him.' We knew it. From d-end to tackle, it was easy for him . . . I said to him right then, I said, 'You watch, you're going to be a first-round draft choice.' "

The Eagles choose 35th overall in the second round tonight, 67th in the third round. It'll be a surprise if they don't get a safety out of one of those selections (Florida International's Jonathan Cyprien?). Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o remained undrafted when the first round concluded, and there are several quarterbacks whose phones didn't ring last night - including West Virginia's Geno Smith.

Rounds 4-7 will be completed tomorrow.

On Twitter: @LesBowen

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