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.”

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

NFL Notes: Rams' All-Pro Aaron Donald skips OTAs amid contract talks

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald has skipped the Los Angeles Rams' first day of organized team activities while he negotiates a long-term contract extension with the club.

Rams general manager Les Snead says the team knew Donald wouldn't be at their training complex Monday.

Snead acknowledged Donald's absence is because of their contract negotiations, which are reaching "the serious part." The GM is confident Donald will be a long-term fixture on the Rams' line.

The Rams exercised their fifth-year option for 2018 on Donald last month. He will make nearly $7 million next year. Snead has repeatedly said the Rams plan to sign Donald to a long-term deal.

Donald is a three-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro in his three-year career.

Vikings: Zimmer takes time off after latest eye surgery
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer finally relented, taking some time away from the team to allow his right eye a proper recovery from his latest surgery.

Better in the spring than during the fall, he realized.

As Zimmer departed Monday for some rest and relaxation at his vacation ranch in rural Kentucky, general manager Rick Spielman said the organization anticipates a return by Zimmer "in a few weeks." Players will take the field Tuesday for the first of 13 scheduled offseason practices, including the three-day mandatory minicamp that runs June 13-15.

"We all agree Mike's health is the priority, and we believe rest and recovery are in his best interest for the long term," Spielman said.

Zimmer directed a free youth football camp Saturday at team headquarters. He revealed to reporters that he underwent an eighth procedure on the eye last week, a trying seven-month stretch that has included several unplanned operations (see full story).

Jets: Former 2nd-round pick Smith waived
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Wide receiver Devin Smith has been waived from the injury list by the New York Jets.

A second-round draft pick from Ohio State in 2015, Smith rarely saw the field for the Jets. He tore his ACL during the offseason workout program after he appeared in four games last season. He started that season on the physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from another ACL tear suffered in December 2015.

If Smith clears waivers, he would revert to the Jets' injured reserve list.

"It's bad luck and bad timing because the kid worked so hard to get back," coach Todd Bowles said last month during the NFL draft. "He has to persevere and adversity will help him get stronger. But unfortunately in this game, over my course of time playing and coaching, you see these types of things. Some of the best athletes get hurt and don't get a chance to get on the field, and it's just bad timing, bad luck."

The Jets also re-signed wide receiver WR Deshon Foxx on Monday. Foxx originally signed with the Jets in January and was waived May 9. The Connecticut product first signed with Seattle 2015 after going undrafted and was waived/injured with a hamstring injury that August.

Buccaneers: TE Howard signs rookie deal
TAMPA, Fla. -- Tight end O.J. Howard has signed his rookie contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Howard, who was the 19th overall pick in last month's NFL draft, signed a four-year deal on Monday that includes a team option for a fifth season. He is the first of Tampa Bay's six draft picks to sign.

Howard, who is 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, was a third-team Associated Press All-America selection last season. He started 12 of Alabama's 14 games last season and had 45 receptions for 595 yards and three touchdowns.

The drafting of Howard and signing DeSean Jackson in free agency should give Jameis Winston more options in Tampa Bay's passing game.

The Buccaneers also announced that defensive end Jacquies Smith has signed his restricted free agent tender.

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

Doug Pederson: Dak Prescott knew he didn't have to win by himself

For the most part, Carson Wentz had a pretty successful rookie season. 

Sure, the Eagles finished with a 7-9 record, but Wentz did enough to continue the franchise's belief that he is indeed the quarterback of the future. 

Another guy in Dallas did the same thing with the Cowboys. Actually, Dak Prescott had an even more impressive rookie season, leading the Cowboys to 13 wins, while winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. 

Prescott, a fourth-round pick, had a great year but didn't try to do too much. And that's what impressed Eagles head coach Doug Pederson the most. 

"[Prescott] understood this right away, that he didn't have to win the game for them," Pederson said on The Doomsday Podcast, hosted by Matt Mosley and Ed Werder. (Pederson also talked about running the Rocky steps). "He knew that he had a good defense, a tremendous offensive line, a great runner, he had some veteran players that he could rely on and he learned that early. As soon as he had the opportunity to play and that was early, from Day 1. 

"That's something that a young quarterback, sometimes it takes them a while to figure out the game that way. That's the impressive thing, that he learned how to handle that business that well, utilize the people around him and understand that he didn't have to go win the game."

While Prescott had plenty of help during his rookie season, it was pretty evident Wentz was lacking in that area. 

Prescott had a great offensive line, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott and others. Wentz had an offensive line that was missing Lane Johnson, an often-injured Ryan Mathews and receivers like Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham playing serious snaps. 

So it made sense when the team went out this offseason and signed Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and recently LeGarrette Blount, as free agents, finally getting Wentz some real help. 

"We had opportunities to get those two guys and it was obvious last year, we were young at the wide receiver position," Pederson said. "We needed some leadership, some veteran presence there and we went out and got that with Torrey and Alshon. We still want to build through the draft, we still want to acquire young talent. 

"LeGarrette Blount now is a guy that gives us that big back, running back, that can come in and compete and hopefully he does everything he did at New England the last couple of seasons. He had 18 rushing touchdowns for over 1,000 yards and we just expect that same level of performance here."

Maybe having weapons will allow Wentz to do what made Prescott so impressive to Pederson in 2016: not too much.