For Lane Johnson, familiarity is paying off

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For Lane Johnson, familiarity is paying off

He’s not the new guy anymore, and for Lane Johnson, that’s perfectly fine.

A year after he entered OTAs as the Eagles' first-round pick (and fourth overall selection of the draft) and quickly found himself thrown into the starting lineup, Johnson feels much more relaxed this time around.

“This year is a lot different,” Johnson said. “I know the schedule, the plays and the offense, so I’m more familiar with things. I feel a lot more comfortable than as a rookie.”

While the Eagles have spent this year’s OTAs bringing their top draft picks along slowly and keeping them away from the first team, last year was much different. The team needed a new right tackle and Johnson was expected to contribute right away.

Despite starting all 16 games his rookie year, there is plenty of room for Johnson to improve as he enters his sophomore campaign. While he excelled as a run-blocker, the 6-foot-6, 317-pound tackle struggled at times in pass protection, giving up 11 sacks, according to Pro Football Focus.

According to Johnson, the biggest key to his development has been the stability of playing in one spot on the line.

If Johnson remains at right tackle as expected, it will be the first time he has played the same position in two consecutive years since high school.

A high school quarterback who arrived at Oklahoma as a tight end, Johnson was starting at right tackle by his junior year before moving to the left side as a senior. Switched back to the right side last year by the Eagles, he is looking forward to staying put for once.

“This is the first year I’ve been able to play the same position for consecutive years, so playing back-to-back [years] at right tackle will be good for me,” Johnson said. “In the pass set, I feel a lot more comfortable on the right side than I did last year.”

Having a year of experience under his belt has also helped Johnson become more vocal and assertive with his decision-making.

As part of a unit with three players (Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis and Jason Peters) over 30, Johnson kept mostly quiet last season and let his veteran teammates make the calls. He relied especially heavily on Herremans, who lined up next to him at right guard.

“He’s not a first-year player now and he’s not relying on Todd Herremans to make the calls for him,” Chip Kelly said before Tuesday’s OTA. “Last year, Lane made decisions by saying, ‘Todd, tell me what to do,’ and then executing it. Now he knows what to do and is communicating a little better with those guys.”

Barring injury, the Eagles will return the same starting offensive line in 2014 that helped them finish second in the NFL in points per game (27.6) last season and helped LeSean McCoy lead the league in rushing.

Having given up the most sacks and having committed the most penalties (eight) out the team’s starting linemen, Johnson will look to be more consistent in Year 2 and prove that he was worth being a top-four pick.

“There was a lot of guessing and being unsure of myself last year,” Johnson said. “I want to come out playing fast right away and be confident and I think when I do that good things will happen.”

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

No longer feeling like a rookie, Wendell Smallwood more comfortable as lead back

As the Eagles prepared to face the Green Bay Packers last week, rookie Wendell Smallwood readied himself for a big role.
 
Then he got just nine carries. 
 
It wasn’t that those carries went elsewhere, it was that the Eagles got away from the run game early in the 27-13 loss to the Packers despite being down one score for most of the game. Ultimately, he had half of the team’s carries. 
 
On Friday, head coach Doug Pederson said the disparity in play-calling didn’t have anything to do with having Smallwood as the lead back instead of Ryan Mathews. 
 
“Not really,” Pederson said. “Again, that's something – when I go back ask evaluate after the game – it's something I have to consider more of: Did I run the ball enough or throw the ball enough or not enough or did I do it too much, one way or the other. 
But no, that did not dispel anything, run or pass.”
 
For the second straight week, Mathews is out with an MCL sprain, which means Smallwood is preparing for a bigger role in the offense again. That could also mean his second career start in as many weeks. 
 
Having gone through this process last week has made this week even easier. 
 
“I think I'm very comfortable, more than I was last week,” Smallwood said. “I kind of knew I was going to have a lead role, kind of thinking about a lot, how to play better and take on the load that I was probably going to get. So this week, I think it was kind of natural for me, not really worrying about it.”
 
Smallwood, who was a fifth-round pick out of West Virginia, has 66 carries for 290 yards and one touchdown this season. Smallwood's average of 4.4 yards per attempt is sixth in the league among rookie with at least 60 carries this season. He also has the most rushing yards of any Eagles rookie since Bryce Brown in 2012. 
 
While the Eagles would probably have preferred to use Mathews more this season, the veteran has played just 53 more snaps than Smallwood. 
 
Does Smallwood even feel like a rookie anymore? 
 
“Nah, definitely not, definitely not,” he said with a smile. “Probably after Week 3 I stopped feeling like a rookie. And guys tell me all the time, 'we need you to play, we don't need you to be a rookie right now.' So kind of forced not to be a rookie.”

NFL Notes: Jordan Reed, Trevor Siemian ruled out for Week 13

NFL Notes: Jordan Reed, Trevor Siemian ruled out for Week 13

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed will miss Sunday's game at the Arizona Cardinals with a sprained left shoulder.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden announced Friday that Reed would sit out. It'll be the third game missed this season by Reed, who leads the Redskins with 59 catches. He has 630 yards receiving and five TDs.

Reed hurt his shoulder in Washington's Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas, then was sidelined for practice all week.

Gruden said he hopes that with an extra week of treatment, Reed would be available to play at NFC East rival Philadelphia on Dec. 11.

Also out for Washington (6-4-1) against Arizona (4-6-1) is defensive end Anthony Lanier (lower leg).

Starting offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Ty Nsekhe, cornerback Bashaud Breeland, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, running back Chris Thompson and long snapper Nick Sundberg were all listed as questionable for Washington.

Broncos: Trevor Siemian ruled out against Jacksonville
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos ruled out Trevor Siemian for Sunday's game at Jacksonville, meaning rookie Paxton Lynch will make his second start.

Siemian had hoped to return to practice Friday but the training staff put him right back in his walking boot and informed coach Gary Kubiak the second-year pro was a no-go against the Jaguars (2-9).

Lynch lost to Atlanta in Week 5.

The Broncos (7-4) are scrambling for a playoff spot after their loss to Kansas City in which Siemian threw for a career-best 368 yards with three TDs and no interceptions but was sacked six times.

The Broncos also promoted speedy punt returner Kalif Raymond from the practice squad with rookie fullback Andy Janovich going on injured reserve following ankle surgery.

Bills: Sammy Watkins expected to play against Oakland
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to play in his second consecutive game though questions persist about the severity of his left foot injury.

On Thursday, Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said Watkins still has a broken bone in his left foot. Watkins returned from injured reserve last week after missing two months of action.

Watkins spoke with reporters Friday but was vague when pressed about Lynn's comments. Asked if he still has a broken bone in his foot, Watkins responded: "Not necessarily. You hear a lot of things."

Buffalo's top receiver had surgery in April to repair a stress fracture in the injured foot. It was aggravated in Week 3 when a teammate stepped on Watkins' foot at a walk-through.

Watkins returned against Jacksonville on Sunday and provided a major spark to the league's worst passing attack, catching three passes for 80 yards. He missed Wednesday's practice due to foot soreness but participated on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.

"Playing the game, you come out a little bit sore being out for eight weeks," Watkins said. "So we expected that, I expected that myself. I'm fine. I got through the game last week, I felt pretty good, didn't have any hiccups, and really just keep doing the things in the training room."

Watkins said the soreness did not come until after the game against the Jaguars, not during. He's expected to again be on a snap count this Sunday at Oakland.

Watkins was also asked about the possibility of a second surgery, along with his status for the rest of the season.

"Right now I'm really just focusing on the Raiders," Watkins said. "After the season, if I need to get that done then we will, and if I don't we'll be fine."

The Bills are depending on Watkins to contribute due to reduced personnel at wide receiver. Robert Woods (knee) and Percy Harvin (illness) are out. Marquise Goodwin is expected to play after suffering a wrist injury in practice Thursday.

Starting cornerback Ronald Darby (concussion) is out. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is expected to play after leaving Sunday's win over Jacksonville with an abdominal strain.

Dismissal deal done in Johnny Manziel's domestic case
DALLAS -- Prosecutors say they have an agreement with Johnny Manziel to dismiss a domestic violence charge against the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

The Dallas County District Attorney's Office said Friday that Manziel will have to meet certain conditions for a year before the misdemeanor charge will be dismissed. The former Cleveland Browns player was accused of hitting and threatening former girlfriend Colleen Crowley during a night out in January.

Brittany Dunn, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors, said the agreement was filed Friday without Manziel present.

Details of the agreement weren't immediately available. A spokeswoman for the former Texas A&M star didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Judge Roberto Canas said at a hearing last month that the sides had reached a tentative deal on a conditional dismissal (see full story).

Jaguars: Ivory, Hurns ruled out; Thomas doubtful vs. Denver
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars will be without two offensive starters Sunday against Denver and maybe a third.

Coach Gus Bradley ruled out running back Chris Ivory (hamstring) and receiver Allen Hurns (hamstring) on Friday. He also listed tight end Julius Thomas (back) as doubtful to play against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (7-4).

Receiver Rashad Greene (Achilles tendon) and defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder) also are out, leaving the Jaguars (2-9) with four healthy receivers heading into the game. Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee will start, with Arrelious Benn and Bryan Walters serving as backups.

Without Ivory, T.J. Yeldon is expected to handle the bulk of the carries. But Yeldon (ankle) was limited in last week's game and again in practice this week.