Are Eagles giving birth to a new offensive line star?

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: August 15, 2013

LANE JOHNSON had a very memorable weekend.

The Eagles' rookie right tackle kicked it off Friday night by acing his first preseason start against the Patriots.

Twelve hours later, he was at his wife Chelsea's bedside in an Oklahoma City hospital as she gave birth to their first child, 7-pound, 13-ounce Dave Jace Johnson.

That's about par for the course for birth weight. But if you happened to see the picture of the kid Lane tweeted, well, he has big mitts. Might be able to palm a basketball already.

"His hands are freakishly huge for a baby," Johnson said. "Probably bigger than some of the smaller guys on our team. He's gonna be a big kid.

"I'm 6-6. My wife is 5-11. My father-in-law is 6-6. My dad is 6-6. No telling how big he's going to be when he gets all grown."

Chelsea and the baby are doing fine. So is Dad, who was back at practice yesterday preparing for tomorrow's second preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.

Coach Chip Kelly had no qualms about letting Johnson miss 2 days of training camp for the birth of his son, particularly given how well the guy's been playing.

"I think it was really important for him to be there," Kelly said. "I think where it fell in the season and for a guy like him who's been here every single day since we drafted him, his attention to detail, how hard he works and all of that, it was absolutely no question.

"There are certain things that come up in everybody's life that kind of supersede what we're doing out here. And he didn't miss a beat when he jumped right back in. He was here [Monday] night for the walkthrough, and I feel real confident that he'll be able to play [tomorrow]."

It's early, but, so far, the Eagles' top draft pick has made a silky-smooth college-to-pro transition. He's looked like anything but a rookie since training camp began, and he was their most consistent offensive lineman in the New England game.

"He knew exactly what he was doing," Kelly said. "He didn't really stick out like a rookie, in a good way."

"It's clear that none of this is too big for him," said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who is the analyst for the Eagles' preseason broadcasts on 6ABC.

"He still has to get stronger. But he's got those long arms and great leverage. If you watch him in all these different drills, he's always balanced. Part of athletic ability is always being able to be balanced. His feet always seem like they're underneath him."

Johnson said balance has been one of the things he's focused on since being moved from defensive end to offensive tackle 2 years ago at Oklahoma.

"At tackle, you're out there on an island," he said. "You don't want to be leaning. You don't want to be out of balance. Because when that happens, they'll beat you with an inside move, beat you around [the edge]. Playing tackle, it's all about balance."

The 6-6, 310-pound Johnson was the fourth overall pick in the April draft and the third tackle off the board, after Eric Fisher (first to Kansas City) and Luke Joeckel (second to Jacksonville).

After watching video of Fisher and Joeckel in their preseason debuts last week, Baldinger, who put in 11 years as an NFL offensive lineman, said Johnson has been head and shoulders above the other two at this point.

He, like everyone else who has watched Johnson, has been impressed by his athleticism.

"The backside blocks are as important as the frontside blocks," he said. "His ability, from a two-point stance, to be able to pick up that left foot and come behind [right guard] Todd Herremans and double-team, there's not a lot of guys that can do that. But Lane can really cover ground.

"We only saw a couple of outside zone [runs] the other night. You block the same five guys on an outside zone as you do on an inside zone. The difference is how you block them. That open step of his to really get out and start stretching the defense, it's impressive."

Everybody knows Johnson's football story. Played quarterback in high school and for a year in junior college. Was switched to tight end when he got to Oklahoma, then to defensive end, then, finally, to offensive tackle in 2011.

Some people had reservations about the Eagles' drafting another relatively inexperienced offensive lineman in the first round, only 2 years after guessing wrong on another inexperienced big-body, Danny Watkins.

But Johnson isn't Watkins, who still seems as lost on the field today as he did as a rookie. Johnson is a quick learner with the kind of athleticism that can make up for any rookie mistakes.

"They did their homework with him," Herremans said. "When you take a guy at the No. 4 spot, you figure he's going to play right away. It looks like they got a winner with this one."

Johnson is the final piece in an offensive line that has the potential to be one of the best in the league this season.

"If you look at the last four teams standing last year - San Francisco, Atlanta, New England and Baltimore - you could say that Philadelphia's line is, if healthy, as good or better than all of them," Baldinger said.

"If [left tackle] Jason Peters gets anywhere close to where he was 2 years ago . . . [center Jason] Kelce already plays with unbelievable leverage. And then you get the consistency of [left guard] Evan [Mathis] and the size of [right guard] Todd [Herremans] in there, along with Johnson, there's no reason they can't be as good as anybody in the league."

Johnson isn't ready to look that far ahead. He just wants to keep improving, wants to build on last week's solid performance against the Patriots with another one against the Panthers.

"It was only the first game," said Johnson, who played 21 snaps last week. "I've got a lot of games in front of me. I'm just trying to be consistent and keep learning and growing.

"I graded out pretty well [against the Patriots], but my deal is, that game is over with. I've got to move on to the next game. Because if you get too happy about the game you just played, you're going to go into the next game and get rocked."

Click here for complete coverage of Philadelphia Eagles training camp.


Email: pdomo@aol.com

On Twitter: @Pdomo

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian.com

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