Eagles tackle Lane Johnson has found peace and respect on the right side

Eagles tackle Lane Johnson has found peace and respect on the right side

Like everyone else in the Eagles locker room, Lane Johnson is continually amazed by Jason Peters.

The Eagles’ 36-year-old left tackle tore an ACL last October, and that would have been an excellent excuse for the nine-time Pro Bowler to ride off into the sunset and let the clock start on the five-year waiting period for his Hall of Fame eligibility.

But retirement never was a consideration for him. He’s been pretty much living at the NovaCare Complex since his surgery last fall, rehabbing his knee and preparing to suit up for his 15th NFL season.

“He’s in the weight room lifting what everybody else is lifting,’’ Johnson said. “He’s a lot further along than I expected. There’s no doubt he’ll be back Week 1. To tell you the truth, I think he could go right now if he really wanted to.

“There’s a sentiment that when you get into your 30s, you start to go downhill. But he’s disproving that. He’s showing that, hey, I may be 36, but I can still play really well. It’s extraordinary. Especially for a lineman.’’

It’s certainly possible that Peters won’t be the same player he was before he injured his knee. But you’d be a fool to bet against him right now. He’s been given career last rites a couple of other times in recent years and has managed to bounce back stronger than ever.

The Eagles certainly never expected this kind of longevity from Peters. When they selected Johnson with the fourth overall pick in the draft five years ago, it was with the idea that he’d be the team’s right tackle for a year or two, then slide over to the left side and replace Peters when Father Time tapped the guy on the shoulder.

But here we are five years later and Father Time still is nowhere to be seen. The Eagles believe in Peters’ recuperative powers enough to ignore his hefty $10.7 million salary-cap number. Look around the league for another non-quarterback older than 33 with a $10-million-plus cap number. There aren’t many.

As for Johnson, he has made peace with the fact that he might spend the rest of his Eagles career at right tackle.

Right guard Brandon Brooks “and I have a good thing going on the right side,’’ Johnson said this week. “Why mess with it? Ultimately, I’ll do what the team asks. But I’m real comfortable on the right. I’ve been here six years. We’ll see what happens.’’

Camera icon DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Lane Johnson, left, looking to block the CowboysÕ Sean Lee last season.

That wasn’t always his attitude. Early in his career, Johnson felt he wouldn’t get true respect or recognition until he moved to left tackle.

Once upon a time, that might’ve been true. But not anymore. Most of the league’s top defenses have two elite edge rushers. And they often line up their best one over the right tackle rather than the left tackle.

“The game has changed,’’ Johnson said. “I don’t see left or right anymore. I see what player am I going against? Just look at last year and the guys I faced. Von Miller. Khalil Mack. Michael Bennett. DeMarcus Lawrence. Vic Beasley. Jason Pierre-Paul. Robert Quinn. Ryan Kerrigan. Some of the best pass rushers in the league.

“That whole myth of the left tackle blocking the premier rusher, it still happens. But it’s a lot more balanced nowadays.’’

After Peters got hurt in Week 7 against the Redskins last October, offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland had two choices. He could move Johnson to left tackle and put second-year man Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle. Or he could leave Johnson on the right side and plug Vaitai in at left tackle.

Stoutland said he chose Plan B because Vaitai was a natural left tackle and because he preferred to make just one move rather than two. But he also took a long, hard look at the Eagles’ remaining schedule and saw the imposing list of edge rushers who would be lining up over the right tackle.

“That pretty much had a lot to do with it,’’ Johnson said. “Plus, he wanted to keep that rhythm going on the right side with me and Brandon.’’

Johnson and Brooks both earned Pro Bowl invitations. Despite playing on the right side, Johnson was a first-team All-Pro selection.

He gave up just three sacks and 20 total quarterback pressures the entire season. In the Eagles’ three playoff wins, he didn’t give up a sack and allowed just one QB hit and four hurries.

Brooks didn’t give up any sacks last season. The only two guards in the league who finished with higher run-blocking grades than he did, according to Pro Football Focus, were the Cowboys’ Zack Martin and the Steelers’ David DeCastro.

“It didn’t take long for us to mesh,’’ Johnson said of Brooks, who signed with the Eagles before the 2017 season. “We became good friends pretty quickly, and I think that helped speed up the process. He’s pretty similar to me. Similar life experiences.

“We both grew up in single-parent households. That kind of stuff off the field helped us get going on the field.’’

Johnson entered last season partly fueled by a sense of desperation. He was coming off a 10-game suspension for his second violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

While he repeatedly insisted that he didn’t knowingly use a banned substance, he knew that a lot of people out there, including many fellow players, didn’t believe him and viewed him as just another steroid cheat.

Now, he’s an all-pro. Now, he’s a member of a Super Bowl champion. But he knows he can’t coast.

“I don’t have a made-it mentality,’’ Johnson said. “I have a nine-time Pro Bowler [Peters] to thank for that. The best advice he ever gave me was ‘Don’t ever let anybody outwork you.’ When you see a 36-year-old doing that, it motivates you. There’s really no room to sit back and think you made it.’’

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Published at Wed, 30 May 2018 18:33:39 +0000

Categories: Eagles

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