By Dave Spadaro
Lane Johnson is something that most men are not: He is a rare combination of size and power at 6-foot-6, 317 pounds, with a dancer’s feet, a high football intelligence and a love of in-line, hand-to-hand combat.
And he’s also on the edge, one way or the other, in his NFL career.
“One more mistake,” Johnson says, “and I’m toast. I know it. There won’t be any more mistakes.”
Johnson, the fabulously talented right tackle for the Eagles and one of the team’s most indispensable players — — they were 5–1 with him on the field last season and 2–8 without him — has twice been suspended by the NFL for violating its substance-abuse policy. One more “mistake,” as Johnson said, will send him to the sidelines for two full seasons, a virtual death knell.
In less than a month’s time, the Eagles will be in full-on training camp mode, and Johnson will man the right tackle spot and, yes, it’s fair to say that Johnson has supreme motivation to be a great football player. He has the talent to be one of the best, if not the very best, offensive linemen in the entire league … if Johnson can stay healthy, stay out of trouble, and play to his maximum ability.
“There is nothing Lane can’t do,” offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland says. “He faces some of the very best pass rushers in this league and he handles the power. He handles the speed. He handles everything thrown at him. We know that Lane is a superior talent. Lane is so very important to what we’re doing offensively.”
The fourth overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Johnson’s athletic past includes stops at quarterback, tight end and defensive line in his college days at Oklahoma. He had been playing offensive tackle only a few seasons before the Eagles drafted him, and Johnson made an immediate impact in Chip Kelly’s offense in ’13. That year proved to be the highlight of Kelly’s three seasons as the Eagles’ head coach. It also served to show what Johnson can do when he’s on the football field.
But two suspensions have cost him 14 games, including those dreadful 10 last season. Johnson, a man with a contract that extends through the 2021 campaign, intends to stay in the lineup looking ahead.
“It’s not going to happen again, I can promise you that,” Johnson said. “I know what I’ve done in the past, the mistakes I’ve made. Everything I’m doing now is to be the best player I can be to help this football team win. I let our team down last year, the fans, the entire organization. That’s not going to happen again.”
Johnson has become the focal point of an offensive line that expects to be great this season. Pro Football Focus, an organization based on analytics, recently rated the Eagles’ offensive line as the best in the NFL heading into the 2017 season. For that to happen, Johnson must be on the field for 16 games and fulfil the talent that he possesses and that the Eagles have invested so heavily in.
“I’m going to be there for this team,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to this season like no other year. I can’t wait to get it started.”