Lane Johnson came to Philadelphia as a high draft selection with high expectations.
The fourth-overall pick in April's NFL draft was placed into the Eagles starting lineup for the team's first preseason game against New England, and he's started every game since. Like any rookie, Johnson's season has had its fair share of ups and downs, but things seem to be moving in the right direction for the Eagles starting right tackle. Just ask Chip Kelly, who believes that Johnson is coming off of the best game of his young career.
"I think Lane has really come along," Kelly said earlier this week. "He probably played his best game to date against Oakland, and I think with all rookies, it's the experience factor. The one thing, I've said this about Lane before, usually he very rarely makes the same mistake twice, and that's the mark of a really good football player. But the issue is you can't show him everything just because of his lack of experience. I've seen a steady progress as the season has gone along.
"The one thing we know is he's a great athlete and he's a great effort player, and that's the one thing: If you want to play here, you've got to be a great effort player, and I think Lane understands that. He's always played with great effort, and as he gets through more experience, as he sees more diverse looks, he's just going to continue to grow. But his best game to date was against Oakland."
Johnson has also seen progress in his own game, saying that he noticed himself play much more aggressively against the Raiders.
"I think with my pass sets, I went and attacked," Johnson said. "I was aggressive. I think I used my hands probably the best that I have, and then in the run game, I had a lot of the displacement blocks whenever the run was going away from me and that allowed (LeSean McCoy) to have cutback lanes. I think I had my most complete game since becoming a pro … Especially in these last four or five games, I feel like I've been progressing and learning and I think that's what it's all about, just maturing as a player."
The transition from playing in college to starting in the NFL can be a tough one. Luckily for Johnson, he's joined a tight-knit, veteran line that has a combined 31 years of NFL experience between the other four starters. Both Johnson and his head coach can see the benefits of surrounding Johnson with an experienced group.
"I like coming to work every day," Johnson said. "We have a bunch of guys that play on the offensive line, a bunch of goofballs, and we go out to practice and we have a lot of fun. They've really taken me in and I feel like I'm the baby brother of the group."
"I think he's got a great group of older guys to learn from with Todd (Herremans) and (Jason) Kelce and Evan (Mathis) and Jason (Peters)," said Kelly. "They've really kind of taken him under their wings and kind of fostered that (progression)."
While his fellow linemen deserve a lot of the credit for helping Johnson along the way, credit must also go to his position coach, Jeff Stoutland, whose energetic approach has paid dividends with his young tackle.
"He's fun," Johnson said of his position coach. "I know when we practice in full pads, he's wired up and you can't really calm him down, so he's in your face, but he's very passionate about his guys and I know that he really cares about his players, so that's really special about him.
"He gets in my face. He tells it how it is, but he helps me out a lot. He knows I'm a rookie and he knows that I'm young, so he gives me good insights. He's always correcting me and helping me as far as my technique."
In recent months, Johnson's teammates and coaches have helped guide him through the challenging transition from college prospect to NFL starter. Off the field, Johnson faces perhaps an even larger adjustment. The 23-year old has been learning about life in the NFL, while also learning about life as a father to his son David Jace, who was born in August.
"(The biggest adjustment off of the field is) probably being a dad," Johnson said with a smile. "Going home and changing diapers and hearing him scream at night-that's a lot different than what I've been dealing with."
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