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The Eagles’ best offensive lineman in their preseason opener against the Patriots wasn’t Pro Bowl alternate Evan Mathis, and it wasn’t seven-year starter Todd Herremans, and it wasn’t former all-rookie pick Jason Kelce.
According to head coach Chip Kelly, it was rookie Lane Johnson, who was making his NFL debut.
Johnson only got 21 snaps Friday night, as the first offensive line played four series –- two with Michael Vick at quarterback and two with Nick Foles at quarterback.
But Kelly was very encouraged by what he saw from Johnson, the fourth pick in this year’s draft.
“I thought Lane did a really nice job especially [for his] first game,” Kelly said. “I think very consistent. He may have been our most consistent offensive lineman the way coach [Jeff Stoutland] graded out. He knew exactly what he was doing. Didn't have any mental errors, plays with great effort.
“He's always trying to make the extra play and play into the whistle. But his first game, he didn't really stick out like a rookie in a good way. You know, sometimes I think they stick out as rookies in a poor way where they're going in the wrong direction or they're caught up in it. But I don't think he was by any stretch.”
Johnson, the first-team right tackle, is on target to become the Eagles’ first rookie to start on opening day at either offensive tackle spot since 1998 and Tra Thomas, who is now a summer coaching intern with the team.
Johnson has been in Oklahoma the last few days to be with his wife Chelsea, who gave birth to the couple’s first child on Saturday.
But nobody’s too concerned about Johnson missing a few practices. It’s still early, but so far, it looks like the Eagles have themselves a potential franchise offensive tackle.
Before he left for Oklahoma, Johnson spoke about his NFL debut, which came just two years after his first college start at offensive tackle.
“It’s kind of hard to explain,” he said. “You’ve been watching all your life, and then finally you’re right out there in the huddle, and it’s like a surreal experience.
“It was real fun. It felt good to get my first one done with just to get that feeling out of the way. It was great.”
The Eagles netted 167 yards and scored 14 points on the four series the first offensive line played.
That’s 167 yards, 14 points and 21 plays before the second quarter was five minutes old.
Johnson was matched up on Friday night against a very capable defensive end, veteran Rob Ninkovich, who recorded a team-high eight sacks last year. Ninkovich never got near either Eagles quarterback. Johnson handled him masterfully during the week in joint practices and again in the game.
“We just wanted to get out here and see where we were at,” Johnson said. “Things went well for us. We did do some good things, and we’ll come into next week and keep trying to improve.”
Johnson will likely be back at practice on Tuesday. The Eagles face the Panthers Thursday night in the second preseason game.
Johnson said one of the fun things about playing in Kelly’s offense is the up-tempo, no-huddle scheme that puts so much pressure on opposing defenses.
In the New England game, 10 of the Eagles’ last 16 snaps were no-huddle snaps.
“Honestly, it hurts your lungs,” Johnson said. “But when you see the defense is coming and you know that they’re out of breath, you go for the throat.”