Today's guest columnist is a long-time veteran of covering the NFC East war zone. He is Brad Wilson of the Lehigh Valley Express-Times...
Today Brad reminds us of the gem of a prospect the Eagles landed with their 1st Round pick of Lane Johnson.
Philadelphia Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman, left, poses with newly drafted offensive tackle Lane Johnson and head coach Chip Kelly before a news conference upon the announcement of Johnson's 1st Round selection.
Here's Brad Wilson's take--- "It didn't take Lane Johnson long to get used to Philadelphia...
"I had a cheesesteak earlier, so I had a good taste of that," said the Philadelphia Eagles' No. 1 pick at his introductory press conference at the NovaCare Center in South Philadelphia.
Steaks, fans, football -- Philadelphia in a nutshell
“I just heard that the fans are probably the best," said Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 303-pound offensive tackle from Oklahoma. "I talked to some of the fans earlier and I watched the movie Invincible (about Vince Papale). I mean, the crowd gets rowdy every now and then, that’s what it’s all about. I just think the whole culture here in Philadelphia is all about football.”
That should fit Johnson well, given that he played scholastically in Texas and in college for Oklahoma, two rather fanatic football areas.
"It’s kind of like Texas, where I come from, if you ever watched Friday Night Lights," Johnson said. "I just need to get used to the environment that I’m going to be in. I’m just getting used to the city now that I know that I’m going to be living here for the next four years. I know I’m going to have to get used to the people here and the culture."
It may take a while, given that there are more people in one section of Lincoln Financial Field on Sundays than there are in Johnson's hometown of Groveton, Texas, all 1,107 of them.
"I had 33 kids in my graduating class," Johnson said. "I played at such a small high school. I didn’t get heavily recruited."
Indeed, Johnson's winding path to the NFL is virtually the opposite of the typical blue-chip stud's progression from stardom at one level to stardom at the next.
"I didn’t get any offers, so my only option was to go to Kilgore (Junior College) to play quarterback," Johnson said. "I went there and I kept on growing. Eventually, I started playing tight end and I was around 250 pounds and then I went to (Oklahoma) to play tight end. After a few years there, I was 290 pounds and I was playing a little bit of tight end and (defensive end). I kept on growing; my frame kept on growing."
And the growth required growing in a different way -- as a player.
"(Oklahoma head) Coach (Bob) Stoops came and asked me to play tackle," Johnson said. "When one of our tackles went down, I was stuck there ever since. Growing up, I never ever thought I’d be playing tackle. I was hesitant at first. Coach Stoops came and brought the idea to my attention and I told him I was going to continue to play (defensive end) until things stopped going right."
"After a few weeks, I noticed that the team really needed me to play tackle and I was actually in a pass rush drill against the (defensive end) and the coaches asked me to move and switch sides and I did. I really noticed that I could get a lot of playing time, and after the second time around, that’s when I decided to start playing it."
But the move marked a major change.
"I was always a skill position player my whole life," Johnson said. "You know, playing basketball and stuff."
Johnson must have been one load at the low post on the basketball court. But the lessons learned there are all a part of his route to success on the gridiron. Such a route, dotted with adversity and filled with adjustments, may have helped forge the rugged potential All-Pro the Eagles have drafted.
“My main deal (out of high school was if) I was going to make it," Johnson said. "That was my main goal coming out of high school. To be honest, going to junior college is kind of like a do-or-die situation and survival of the fittest, so everybody’s just trying to practice hard. Every time a scout or something comes around, it’s like ‘Please get me out of here’ kind of deal. So, that’s how it was."
This is a kid who started his college career as a quarterback. Two years and 70 pounds later, he's a NFL offensive tackle.
"It was easy to add weight." Johnson said. "When I got to Oklahoma, they measured my frame. They measure the width of your chest and your hips and stuff like that and my frame was 265. Usually, they’ll do the body measurements to see where guys will progress and if they’re going to grow out of their position. By my senior year, they said my frame was 325 where I could hold my weight so I just kept on getting wider and my frame kept on getting bigger.”
That's one unusual journey.
"The quarterback year (at Kilgore), I started one game but I played in every game. I played quarterback very well in that spring and then one of our tight ends, I think, either quit or left the team and Coach (J.J.) Eckert asked if I’d do double-duty. Then, whenever teams started recruiting me, they saw me in the spring and I had a good 40 time and good test numbers. They saw me as a tight end because of my frame and what I was going to grow into."
Johnson kept growing and growing and will likely add more weight with the Eagles but not so much that he doesn't lose his speed. But he knows he has much to learn to excel in the NFL.
“I mean people see me as ‘raw’ (like) a piece of meat," said Johnson with a smile. "I try to play with technique and try to be a polished as I can. I guess people use the term ‘raw’ because I have been playing for two years. I’m trying to perfect my craft and trying to get better each time that I’m on the practice field and playing the game.”
It's an attitude that has paid off for Johnson -- big-time.
"It’s been a dream come true," he said. "These days go by so fast and it’s kind of hard to catch up. You really have to look at reality, but now it’s starting to set in and I’m just glad to be here."
Eagles fans probably are glad Johnson's here, too.
Brad Wilson can be reached at email@example.com.