This is the cover story of the Gameday Magazine for the Steelers vs. Eagles game which is available at Philadelphia-area ACME Supermarkets while supplies last.
Beneath all the gifts that Lane Johnson has worked so hard to cultivate through the years – the long limbs, the reach, the extraordinary foot quickness, the brute strength – is an intelligence that separates him from the others. Ask Johnson about a defensive player he's watched and studied and really learned, and he provides a dissertation.
"Anything you can do to get an edge in this league, you do it," said Johnson, in his 10th season with the Eagles and one of the all-time greats in franchise history and, without a doubt, the best right tackle in today's NFL. "I love watching film. I need to know everything I can about a player before I line up against him."
At the age of 32, in a game in which players are supposed to be "on the other side" of greatness at around 30, Johnson is improving himself, playing the best ball of his career. He knows it. Defenses know it.
The Eagles' coaching staff certainly knows it.
"Lane to me is one of the best tackles in the world," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said during Training Camp. "He's the best right tackle in the world. To be able to say that about guys on your roster, that's a cool thing to have. 'Lane, you are the best right tackle in the world.' That's how my eyes see it, that's how people in our building see it, that's how our offensive coaches see it. The defensive staff sees it the same way."
A first-round pick by the Eagles in 2013, Johnson's story is one of evolution: He was a college quarterback at Kilgore (Texas) Community College before transferring to Oklahoma and then transitioned to the offensive tackle position. He was tall, of course, but back then he was long and lean and not particularly strong. Johnson built himself up and eventually was the fourth player selected in the 2013 NFL Draft. He was good right away, but over the course of his decade-long career, he has become great. There was an ankle injury that truncated his 2019 season and that bothered him in 2020. In 2021, he stepped away for a few weeks to "restore his personal life" as he dealt with depression and anxiety. But now that he is healthy and back on the field, Johnson has been virtually impenetrable.
"This is a special, special man," Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland says of Johnson. "You don't see people with the athletic ability that he has. He's really fast, really quick, great change of direction, really long. I don't know if you realize how long he is. I remember when we worked him out (prior to the 2013 draft). I went down to Texas to his high school, and his high school coach set me up there. He was doing a 'V-stretch,' and he was sitting on the ground. I was standing about where you are (about 3 feet away), and he stuck his arms out, and he reached to the chair. And he got on the bag drills, and when you watch him do the bag, his feet are so fast. He's really like a skill player playing offensive line. And he's physical, really a unique guy."
Johnson plays like he knows he's the best, leaving no detail untouched. He is thorough in his preparation and his performance.
"I'm definitely a lot bigger and stronger than what I was during the Super Bowl year," Johnson said. "Whatever I've lost in speed, I've made up for in power as I've gotten older. I feel much better than I did last year.
"Right now, I feel fast. I'm around 330, I feel good and just trying to keep that rolling. Early in my career, I played around 315, 320, and now I guess it's easier to keep on weight when you get older as long as it's not slowing me down too much. I feel good, I feel ready."
Johnson is part of an offensive line that has long been the foundation of the team's offensive success – third in yards per game, fourth in points after the 26-17 win over Dallas to improve to 6-0 entering the bye. He credits some of the success he has had to the men who have worked next to him – Todd Herremans (2013-14), Brandon Brooks (2016-21), and Isaac Seumalo now. They are the ones who must coordinate their timing and sync their minds in terms of recognizing what they are seeing from the defense and what they are hearing from the quarterback and center Jason Kelce as line calls and adjustments are made.
The mental part is something Johnson has long worked at mastering, and he is all the way there. A virtuoso at right tackle.
"It isn't all muscle or just being bigger than the other guy," Johnson said. "There is a lot more that goes into it and I enjoy that aspect of it, where I'm using leverage or my blocking angle to win that play. That's the thing: It's a play-to-play deal here. We don't have much time to celebrate because there is always going to be a new guy waiting to knock you off. I know they're coming after me. I love that challenge. I love that part of it."
Three times Johnson has been voted into the Pro Bowl. Twice he has been named an All-Pro player and once, of course, he has won a Super Bowl. There are more accolades and much more recognition ahead for Johnson, who is peaking at a time when most players are winding it all down.
Johnson is just now ramping up.
"Keeping your body right is the hardest thing at this level because you're always going to be stressed physically," he said. "I eat right, I recover and take it seriously, and I study until I can't look at the screen anymore. That's how serious I am. I don't want anybody getting a jump on me. It's a constant challenge to me."
And it's far from over. In Johnson's mind, life is a day-to-day process. He's in the groove of his football life and he has no intention of breaking stride. There is Stoutland on his case, mindful of the need to stay sharp. He has the rest of his linemates and the standard they've set. He has a quarterback in Jalen Hurts he wants to keep clean, a fan base that loves him, identifies with him, and has made him an "Underdog" for life.
He is one of the greatest Philadelphia Eagles ever, constantly pushing himself for the next turn.
"It's what I do and I love it," Johnson says, "and I wouldn't give it up for anything. It's the grind that gets you. I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing until they don't want me anymore."