Five years into his professional career, Lane Johnson can tell just by examining game tape how far he’s come since his rookie season.
And yet Johnson is still in the same place his career started.
As the Eagles prepare for training camp, which starts Monday at the team’s headquarters, their first-team offensive huddle will once again include star tackle Jason Peters on the left side and sixth-year pro Johnson on the right.
When Johnson went No. 4 overall to the Eagles in 2011, he figured to serve a short apprenticeship to Peters while playing the right side and then move over when the aging Peters said goodbye.
The Eagles likewise were readying Johnson for his eventual takeover, extending Johnson’s contract last offseason for a whopping six-year, $63-million deal with loads of guaranteed money.
A funny thing happened since. Peters, now 35, hasn’t skipped a beat. He even signed a one-year extension this spring as he comes back ready to man the left side again.
At this point, it’s hard to predict when the future Hall of Famer will move on and when Johnson will assume the coveted left position.
“He may be 54,” Johnson joked during OTAs. “He’s a different breed, man. He’s just so big and strong. His body can do it.”
Johnson and Peters give the Eagles one of their brightest reasons for optimism about an improved 2016 season and a potential playoff berth. Peters is coming off his ninth Pro Bowl season, seventh with the Eagles since coming over in a trade with Buffalo.
Johnson, meanwhile, showed his value to the offense last year when he spent 10 games away from the team serving his second PED suspension.
The Eagles won five of their six games with the Peters-Johnson combo bookending their offensive line, and just two of their 10 during Johnson’s suspension. With Johnson and Peters on the line, the Eagles averaged just under 28 points per game. In the other 10, they averaged about 20 points per game.
“I know the feeling, back in the day, having those Tra Thomases over there or the Jon Runyans on the right side,” said coach Doug Pederson, referring to the team’s mainstay bookend tackles in the 2000s, when the Eagles went to four consecutive NFC Championships and played in a Super Bowl. “To have those anchors on the edges gives you more comfort as a pocket passer and someone that can just take advantage of those guys being the core of your offensive line.”
Johnson’s cap figure balloons to $10 million next season and $10.6 million in 2018, which is left tackle money, but Johnson pointed to the growing number of versatile edge rushers who line up all over to debunk the perception left tackle is much more prominent than right.
“Just look at the people on the right side of the line who I’ve got to block this year. That’s a thing of the past,” he said. “Look at Justin Houston, Cameron Wake, Khalil Mack, Von Miller. We’re called to line up against them now. The NFL is starting to switch a little bit. You’ve got to have decent tackles now or they’ll pick you apart.”
Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.
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