He’s still a novice at this whole offensive line thing. And the way the Eagles look at it, that’s actually a good thing, not a bad thing.
The Eagles selected Oklahoma offensive lineman Lane Johnson (see profile) with the fourth pick in the draft Thursday night, just two years after Johnson moved from defensive end to offensive tackle.
“We look at raw as a positive and not a negative,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “Because what he’s doing right now after two years on the offensive line? Just what the upside is, we felt his ceiling is the highest.
Johnson was a high school quarterback, a JUCO tight end and then a defensive end at Oklahoma when an injury to right tackle Jarvis Jones during spring practice in 2011 convinced Sooners coach Bob Stoops to move the 270-pound Johnson over to the offensive line.
“I told him no at first,” Johnson said. “Then in one of the pass-rush drills they switched me there, and I’ve been stuck there ever since.”
Stuck might not be exactly the right word.
“He wasn't all that averse to it,” Stoops said Thursday night. “I had kind of asked him. I said 'C'mon Lane.' He was a big D-end. Physical. Tough. We loved him there, to be honest with you. But I could tell. I said, man this dude, ‘Big Lane, you're 270. I could tell you could be more.’
“I asked our strength coach, ‘What will it take for him to be 300 pounds?’ He said only a couple weeks and a cheeseburger. Sure enough, that's what happened.
“We saw two practices and were like, 'This is going to be incredible for him.’"
Curiously, Johnson said the toughest transition he made during his unique football journey wasn’t from defense to offense but from high school quarterback in Texas to tight end at Oklahoma.
“From being such a glorified position to going to tight end, where you're hand's in the dirt and there's a lot of physicality involved,” he said Thursday night. “So that was probably the toughest transition. Then going to [defensive end] my junior year [at Oklahoma] was a lot of learning experience. It kind of felt very weird because I'd been a skill-position player my whole life.
“Then going to [offensive] tackle was just kind of a weird experience. But going through my senior year, I knew I had the talent. I kept on working and developing, and things went well for me."
With so little experience, how long will it be until he’s ready to play? Kelly said he’s ready now.
“I think he’s ready, but he is raw,” Kelly said. “He’s played less snaps obviously than [No. 1 pick] Eric Fisher, but when you look at the combination of his athleticism and what he can do and his toughness and those things?
“Is he raw? Yeah,” Kelly said. “But he’s a quick learner, he’s a real smart kid, he’s already graduated, and I think he’ll pick up what we’re doing really quickly.
"He's got some technical things he needs to work on. He's only played the position for two years, so obviously [he needs to work on] the little nuances of the position, hand placement, things like that.”
Johnson, now 6-7, 300 pounds, started 12 games at right tackle in 2011, his first year as an offensive lineman, then moved to left tackle this past season, starting 11 games and earning second-team all-Big 12 honors.
In the span of two years, he went from never playing offensive line in his life to getting drafted fourth overall.
“The one thing you know when you're around him and you get a chance to see Lane, he's got an unbelievable work ethic,” Kelly said. “He lives and dies football. ... We want guys that love playing football. Not what football gets them, but actually just love playing the game and that's what this kid did.”
Kelly wouldn’t speculate on the depth chart -- he never does -- and wouldn’t confirm that Todd Herremans will swing back inside to right guard, but it’s safe to say that barring disaster, Johnson will be the Eagles’ starting right tackle on Sept. 9 when the Eagles open the 2013 season at Washington.
Assuming everybody is healthy, that would give the Eagles an O-line of -- left to right -- Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Herremans and Johnson.
It would also render 2011 first-round pick Danny Watkins a backup or, more likely, a former Eagle.
“Depth chart and those other things, let’s get Lane in here and let him actually take a few reps and run around a little bit,” Kelly said. “But we do know that Todd has some flexibility. That’s the great thing about him. Todd’s played inside and outside and I think the other thing about Lane, he’s played the right side and the left side, so we’re going to let them all battle it out.
“They’re going to win the job on the field, but it makes us a more versatile football team having Todd. We look at that as a positive.”
Kelly said the Eagles had four players graded almost equally –- offensive linemen Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Johnson, plus Oregon linebacker Dion Jordan.
He said the Eagles went into the draft knowing that whichever of the four was still on the board would become their draft pick.
"We had four guys at the top,” he said. “Exactly how the draft was. It was the three OTs and Dion [Jordan]. [They] were our four guys. That's why we felt comfortable going into this.
“No matter how it fell, we weren't going to be sitting there at four going, 'We didn't get our guy.' But it was just that group of four. Even if anybody traded ahead of us, I know they couldn't pick two people, so we were still going to be OK.”
Johnson is the first Oklahoma player the Eagles have taken in the first round since tight end Keith Jackson in 1988. Jackson went on to become a five-time Pro Bowler.
Johnson’s the 17th lineman –- offense or defense –- the Eagles have selected with their last 21 first-round draft picks. This is also the highest the Eagles have taken an offensive lineman since they drafted Jerry Sisemore with the third pick in 1973.
“I’m excited,” Johnson said. “I think coach Kelly brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the Eagles. I know we’re all anticipating what’s going to happen, and so am I.
“I’m ready to get started, and I’m very fortunate to be with the Eagles.”
For much more on the draft -- and to chat -- see Eagles Draft Central.