Johnson still adjusting to new territory of NFL

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Johnson still adjusting to new territory of NFL

October 2, 2013, 6:00 am
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This is all new for him. Being an offensive tackle, playing in the NFL, going up against the best pass rushers in the game.

And getting beat.

That’s definitely new to Lane Johnson.

Johnson, the Eagles’ rookie first-round pick, has come back down to earth a bit the last couple weeks after an impressive preseason and an auspicious first two weeks.

Not surprising. Opposing defensive ends now have film on Johnson, and they can attack his weaknesses. Now it’s up to Johnson to adjust back.

To something he’s never experienced before.

“Yeah, because I guess in college you’re never getting beat, so it’s quite a bit of change,” he said. “Talking to one of my buds who played with me at Oklahoma, Donald Stephenson, who plays for Kansas City, he said even the best in the league get beat, that’s just how it is.

“It’s how you go into the next play and see how resilient you are. Everybody gets mad when they mess up, but you can’t really reflect on it because everything’s going so fast. All you can do is go onto the next play and try to correct it when you’re looking at film. … It’s just the process of being a rookie.”

Johnson is the first Eagles rookie offensive lineman to open a season as a starting tackle since 1998, when the Eagles’ left tackle was Tra Thomas -- now one of Johnson’s coaches.

Thomas was named to the Eagles’ all-time team, but even he didn’t make a Pro Bowl until his fourth NFL season.

These things can take time.

“He gets down on himself, he expects a lot out of himself, and I think he should,” Todd Herremans said. “He’s a great talent, and he’s only going to get better.”

The Eagles have been unsettled at right tackle since 2009, their first season without Jon Runyan.

Winston Justice, King Dunlap, Herremans and Dennis Kelly have taken turns at right tackle over the past four years, but that carousel ended in April, when the Eagles picked Johnson No. 4 overall.

That was the highest draft pick the Eagles had since Donovan McNabb at No. 2 in 1999 and the highest they’ve taken an offensive lineman since Jerry Sisemore went No. 3 in 1973.

It’s not that he’s been bad. He hasn’t. It’s just that expectations were extreme, and he hasn’t been perfect.

“I think Lane has gotten better but when you have a young guy like him … there's times where you've just got to go,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “Just trust what … was the line call made by Jason Kelce, don't hesitate.

“I think Lane knows exactly what to do, but at times the game has to happen just a little bit quicker for him.”

The highly regarded advanced stats and analytics site Pro Football Focus gave Johnson a very low minus-3½ grade for his performance in the Eagles’ 52-20 loss to the Broncos, his second straight poor grade from PFF.

Johnson joked Tuesday about PFF, saying teammate Evan Mathis is so obsessed with the site that he thinks Mathis may run it.

But he was serious when he talked about the low grades he’s gotten the last couple weeks.

“Sometimes, certain web sites grade the film differently than what coaches do,” he said. “You can go back and watch the film and sometimes people aren’t open, sometimes Mike (Vick) uses his legs to get outside the pocket, it’s how our offense is.

“It’s kind of subjective. It’s just their point of view. … I graded out decent this game. I got beat for the sack and a few pressures. Other than that though I played pretty decent. I played better than I did against Kansas City, so ready to move on.”

Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur shrugged off Johnson’s recent inconsistencies as typical of any rookie.

“I think every player that plays has a few bad plays,” he said. “They all do. I think the same can be said for a rookie. We just focus on it a little bit more. I think when you're playing positions either on the perimeter, wide receiver, corner or in pass protection at tackle, you naturally focus on that. But Lane's battling.

“I do see progression. You know, what he lacks is experience in this league, and he's getting it. I think he's doing a good job.”

It’s important to remember that Johnson is only four games into what the Eagles anticipate will be a long, productive career.

As long as they see improvement on a regular basis, they’re happy.

“Getting a grasp on it,” Johnson said. “I haven’t obviously played against everybody, but there’s only a certain amount of moves that you can do. So you just gain more experience each game.”

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