It was low on the list, but Chip Kelly likely felt more comfortable awarding Michael Vick the starting quarterback job knowing that his rookie right tackle wouldn’t get the lefthander killed.
Lane Johnson is a long way from being a finished product, but the Eagles’ top draft pick has gotten off to a promising start. But his responsibilities got marginally more difficult now that he’s been tasked with protecting Vick’s blindside.
“I think it puts more pressure on you to pass protect a little bit better because [Vick] can’t see,” Johnson said. “But the good thing about Mike is he’s pretty mobile and he does a good job of getting himself out of certain situations.”
Vick has already run into a couple of “situations” after Johnson struggled in pass protection. In the first preseason game, a Patriots defensive end slipped by the rookie, but Vick was able to step up and make a throw. In the second game, just before the half, Panthers rookie end Wes Horton beat Johnson inside. But Vick couldn’t wiggle out and was sacked.
For the most part, Johnson has more than held his own. His run blocking has been most impressive. He’s aggressive, has solid technique and uses his athleticism to get to the next level.
It’s his pass protection that he’ll need to work on most. Johnson’s hand and foot work are just OK right now. So he’s going to have good and bad moments, as noted above. But his teammates on the offensive line have commented on how much he’s picked up already in a short amount of time.
He’s going to be tested right off the bat at Washington in the season opener. Left outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan had a strong sophomore season a year ago and has been a monster in the preseason. In the NFC East alone, Johnson will face some of the best pass rushers in the NFL with the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul, the Cowboys’ DeMarcus Ware and Kerrigan.
“I just got to worry about my assignment, blocking the end,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to blocking some of the best ends in the NFL.”
Johnson has the potential to be an anchor on the offensive line for years. Depending upon the future at quarterback and Jason Peters’ health, the Eagles could eventually move Johnson to left tackle. He played on the left side as a senior at Oklahoma. So he knows a thing or two about protecting the quarterback’s blindside.
But the stakes have been raised.