Lane Johnson hoping to erase 'raw' label

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Lane Johnson hoping to erase 'raw' label

April 27, 2013, 9:00 am
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Offensive tackle Lane Johnson was a high school quarterback and a tight end in Junior College. (AP)

The dispatch went out almost immediately. Not long after the Eagles took Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick of the draft on Thursday, Eagles offensive lineman Evan Mathis (who, like Johnson, wears No. 69) reached out to him on Twitter:

“Welcome to Philly ‪@Lanejohnson69. No, you can’t have my number. Order my steaks rare. Now let’s get to work.”

As rookie hazing goes, it was harmless and amusing enough. But that last line wasn’t simply about camaraderie. Not as far as the Birds or Johnson are concerned. The newest Eagle is well aware that he still has to develop as an offensive lineman considering he’s only played the position for the last two seasons in college.

“People see me as raw, like a piece of meat ... I try to play with technique and be as polished as I can,” Johnson said. “I guess people throw out the term ‘raw’ because I’ve been playing [offensive line] two years. I’m trying to perfect my craft and get better.”

Raw. Yes. That seems about right.

Johnson was a high school quarterback who became a tight end in junior college. Shortly after Oklahoma offered him a scholarship, Sooners head coach Bob Stoops switched Johnson from tight end to defensive line. And not long after that, Johnson moved to offensive tackle.

“Growing up, I never ever thought I’d be playing tackle,” Johnson said. “I’ve always been a skill position player my whole life. It’s a dream come true. Things go so fast, I guess it’s hard to stop and look at reality. But it’s starting to set in.”

Johnson, who wasn’t considered among the top 32 prospects in the country after his senior season at Oklahoma (see story), made a rapid pre-draft ascent after wowing scouts at the Senior Bowl. The 6-foot-6, 303-pound tackle further improved his status by running a 40 time that compared favorably with 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin. And his vertical leap was comparable to Bengals wideout A.J. Green.

Johnson believes his physical ability will help him transition to the NFL even as he continues to learn a position that is still new.

“Athleticism makes up for a bunch of mistakes,” Johnson said. “On the college level, you can get away with some things. But, hey, this is the pros. You’re playing against the best of the best, so you’re obviously going to have to play with better technique. That’s something that I’m going to try to incorporate into my game moving forward.”

Being a first-round pick carries certain expectations. The attendant pressure only increases when you’re drafted fourth overall, you land in Philadelphia, and you have limited experience at your position. Johnson said he’s had conversations with Chip Kelly and the coaching staff about what he needs to learn to become a viable NFL starter.

“Being a student of the game, knowing your job cold,” Johnson said. “I think whenever you know what you’re doing, you can play a lot faster. A bunch of rookies are thinking so much, they’re not really playing as fast as they could. So just knowing my position cold, knowing what I’m doing, and working on my technique.”

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