Entering last year’s NFL Draft,
But he was “raw.”
He had only been playing offensive line for a couple of seasons, spending his time prior to that as a quarterback, a tight end, and a defensive lineman. But Johnson broke free of the pre-draft stereotypes by having a terrific rookie season. Immediately inserted into the starting lineup, Johnson started all 16 regular season games for the Eagles, as well as their playoff matchup with the New Orleans Saints. NFL Network and Eagles Game Plan analyst Brian Baldinger said that Johnson was the best rookie in the NFL last season., period.
To Johnson, the term “raw” doesn’t hold much water. He believes the word is used simply to describe a player without much experience, but then again, what draft prospect has NFL experience? According to the Eagles' right tackle, teams may look more seriously at these inexperienced prospects because of his successful rookie year.
“Hopefully (I set the tone),” said Johnson, who joined his teammates on Monday at the start of the Offseason Conditioning Program. “I think ‘raw’ is just a lack of experience. Some of the guys are good in college, but it’s a different level here in the NFL, especially as far as pass-blocking. It just takes time and experience I think. You just have to learn as you go.”
While other top draft picks struggled to find playing time because of injury or trouble with adjusting to the league, Johnson found his way just fine. In an Eagles offense with a lot of moving parts that sometimes even had the tackle lining up out wide, things just seemed to click right away for Johnson.
“I think it was a good system fit,” Johnson said. “This is very similar to what I did in college. A lot of the same plays with just different terminology, so a lot of things just clicked there. I had some rookie bumps, but I was able to battle back through adversity and I thought I played pretty well down the stretch.”
After working out vigorously for the NFL Draft, there wasn’t much down time for Johnson after shaking NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s hand on draft day. After arriving in Philadelphia, Johnson went to work in the training room and on the practice fields, but he also made sure to put in the extra behind-the-scenes work to ensure a smooth transition into the NFL.
“There was a lot of film study that went into it,” Johnson explained. “(I was) just trying to be on the same page as my teammates, like Todd (Herremans) and people that I was playing next to. There was a lot of that, especially towards the beginning of the year, and then towards the later part you click a lot more easily.”
As Johnson expected, there was a bit of an adjustment period for him early on. It wasn’t necessarily all of the training and conditioning that he had to become accustomed to, it was the way that the training was monitored and how much importance the Eagles put in rest.
“There are some conditioning things that we did differently, just as far as recording your stuff and being so much more conscious of what you’re doing and monitoring everything, and everything as far as a recovery aspect,” Johnson said. “They’re really big on getting your body back to full speed every day. That’s one of the biggest differences that I’ve noticed.”
2013 was a successful first year in the NFL for the Eagles’ fourth-overall pick. He hit some bumps in the road early on, but coincidentally he earned a positive grade from Pro Football Focus in eight of the final nine games of the regular season. The Eagles won each of those eight games.
What’s the next step? Johnson has “bulked up” and is ready to become an even stronger player in his sophomore season with the Eagles.
“I’m trying to be a dominant piece on the right side,” Johnson said. “I think last year was a learning experience, but now I feel a lot more confident going in. I know what to expect and I’m just trying to take it to the next level.”