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The Best Of Lane Johnson Is Upon Us

Posted May 30, 2017

Lane Johnson is well aware of what happens if he steps the wrong way again and takes any kind of supplement not approved by the NFL. “I know,” he said on Tuesday, “that it can’t happen again. I’m making sure it doesn’t." …

Lane Johnson is well aware of what happens if he steps the wrong way again and takes any kind of supplement not approved by the NFL. “I know,” he said on Tuesday, “that it can’t happen again. I’m making sure it doesn’t."

What does it mean that Johnson, in his fifth NFL season, has a new outlook on the game of football? He’s always been ultra-talented, the quarterback-turned-offensive tackle story well played and analyzed. Nobody doubts that Johnson does things that (now) 325-pound men don’t do. He’s got the feet of a dancer, the strength of a powerlifter, and the balance of a wrestler.

Add it all up and Johnson is one of the best offensive linemen in the league, no matter the position. He happens to be the Eagles’ right tackle of the immediate past and present, and someday when Jason Peters hangs up his spikes, Johnson will move from right tackle to left tackle and have himself more great seasons.

For now, though, Johnson’s focus is on staying on the straight-and-narrow path for 16 regular season games at right tackle.

“I know that that can never happen again, and it won’t,” Johnson said. “I’ve learned my lessons. I’m taking care of my body like I never have before, and I feel great about it. Last year is last year. It’s in the past. I hurt the football team. But I have to look forward now and I’m excited about where we are as a team, and where I am, where my game is going.

“I feel like you’re going to see the best of Lane Johnson moving forward.”

Johnson’s 10-game suspension last season cost the Eagles dearly. The team, 3-1 at the time of Johnson’s suspension for a second violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, lost eight of the 10 games Johnson missed and any surprise playoff hopes vanished.

When Johnson returned to the starting lineup against New York and Dallas to close the season, the Eagles won both games to push their record to 5-1 with their 2013 first-round draft pick in the lineup. Coincidence? No way. Johnson is that good, and without him in 2016, the offense took a decided step back.

But as much as it hurt the Eagles, it hurt Johnson just as much. He agonized over seeing his teammates out on the field every week. He knew how much his absence meant in the grand scheme of things, and Johnson clearly understood, and understands, that another wrong step means a two-year suspension from the NFL.

So, he’s staying away from any trouble.

Johnson spent his offseason at his Oklahoma home and trained there. He changed his diet, cutting out sugars and “bad” foods in his diet. As a result, Johnson is lean and in the best shape of his life at three-and-a-quarter hundred pounds. He looks great.

He intends to play that way, too.

“It has made a difference in the way I feel and the way I recover,” he said. “I think I’m at my most athletic. I feel great. This spring has been good for all of us up front. You look around and see all of these veteran players who have started in the league and you can’t help but feel pushed.

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“And then on the other side of the ball we’ve brought in Chris Long, a veteran who has done it all. Derek Barnett is obviously an extremely talented player. Tim Jernigan, he brings it every play. I think we’re going to be better for it. The organization has invested a lot in the line of scrimmage. We’re pushing each other every day.”

Johnson is splitting reps on the left side with Jason Peters not present for the voluntary workouts. When the team lines up in 11-on-11 snaps, Johnson starts at left tackle, with second-year man Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle. Johnson is staying sharp with his footwork and hand placement on the right side, too, and he’s more of a complete offensive tackle than ever.

It’s the way of the world in the NFL. Teams aren’t using their best pass rusher exclusively on one side these days. Ends are flip-flopping and trying to create favorable matchups. Having a player like Johnson, who is so adept and so athletic on either side, is a huge plus for the Eagles.

“That’s the way I look at it,” he said. “Whichever side I play, I want to dominate. That’s my goal on every snap. Getting out here and working on my game, taking reps, it’s always good for me. Like I said, I feel great about where I am, and I think we have an offensive line that can be the best in the game, at least among the best. People talk about Dallas and that offensive line, and I think we can be right up there with them.

“It’s a new year and I know we have a long way to go before we start playing games. So every day, you just try to get a little bit better. I think that’s what I’m doing.”

Johnson’s absence last year created a huge vacuum for the offense. His presence in 2017 could have just as much of a positive impact. In his fifth season, perhaps, the Best of Lane Johnson is upon us.

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