Sooners’ Johnson positions self as high draft pick
While his teammates were sprinting as fast as they could in
front of NFL scouts and working up a sweat throwing and catching
passes, Lane Johnson had little to do during Oklahoma’s pro
Nearly all of Johnson’s work Wednesday was already done on a
unique journey from being a player without a position to a
first-round NFL draft prospect.
Just two years ago, Johnson was trying to break into the
Sooners’ rotation at defensive end, having already switched from
junior college quarterback to tight end. In 2011, he reluctantly
made the move to offensive tackle.
That started him down the path to the pros. Johnson says even
he’s surprised at how fast everything has changed. He was being
told he’d be a second- or third-round pick before the Senior Bowl,
and now he could go in the first half of the first round.
”I never thought it was going to happen, but everything is
going by so fast now,” Johnson said after making an early exit
from the Sooners’ indoor practice facility. ”Just trying to grasp
it all is kind of difficult.”
Johnson redshirted in 2010 after transferring to Oklahoma,
initially slotted as a tight end after he had played quarterback at
Kilgore (Texas) College. He had also been a free safety in high
school back home in Groveton, Texas. When tight end didn’t work
out, he got a chance midway through the season to move to defensive
end. But that wasn’t a good fit, either. He found himself
struggling to keep weight off and never making his mark.
When he was approached about making yet another position change
during spring practice two years ago, he initially resisted. As it
turned out, it would be his last switch – and one that finally put
him where he belonged. Maybe his rapid rise in the draft process is
payback for all that bouncing around he had to do just to get
The Senior Bowl was his big breakthrough, and he followed that
by posting the best broad jump (9 feet, 10 inches) and second-best
40-yard dash (4.72 seconds), vertical jump (34 inches) and
three-cone drill (7.31 seconds) performances among all offensive
linemen at last month’s combine. That left him without much to
improve on when pro day rolled around.
”I got everything accomplished that I wanted to. Now, I just
have interviews with teams and stuff like that,” Johnson said.
”I’m flying out to Carolina tomorrow and everything’s taking place
how I want it to. It’s kind of crazy, the whole process went
Johnson wound up essentially being a spectator, along with
representatives from all 32 NFL teams. With nothing more to do,
Johnson left while quarterback Landry Jones was in the middle of a
lengthy workout that included a variety of passes to receivers
including Kenny Stills, who decided to leave the Sooners after his
junior season to enter the draft.
Safety Tony Jefferson, another junior leaving early, was among
those who participated in defensive back drills after Jones’
throwing session. Still nursing a hamstring injury he suffered the
day of his combine workout, Jefferson did not redo his 40-yard
None of the other Sooners are getting as much pre-draft praise
”A few years ago, he might have never played a snap here, and
for him to be in the position he is just is a good story for
everybody else out there to hear how hard he’s worked and what he’s
about to come into,” Stills said.
Stills, who was one of the fastest receivers in the 40 at 4.37
seconds, said he sent a text message to Johnson to congratulate him
after hearing about his impressive combine performance. After
seeing Johnson close-up, Stills said he’s not surprised at what has
”With Lane, you see how many positions he’s changed and how his
body has changed. To me, he’s not obviously in the same category as
LeBron (James), but his body type is one of those guys that can
just do it all,” Stills said. ”You can take him out to the
basketball court, you can ask him to gain 60 pounds. Whatever, he’s
going to do it.
”Lane’s just done everything he’s been asked, and we’ve known
what he’s capable of. His athleticism is pretty much out of this
world for a big guy.”
Part of Johnson’s package is that he’s relatively new to his
position, and there could be more room for growth. He started the
last 12 games of the 2011 season at right tackle, then spent most
of this season starting at left tackle. Johnson said he was hearing
during the season that he could possibly have first-round
potential, but he was still considered raw.
”I think when you have athletic ability, it helps out a bunch
and technique will come with coaching,” he said. ”There’s only so
much you can do athletically but coaching, there’s always things
you can improve on. That’s my main focus right now.”
Leading up to the draft, Johnson said he wants to improve his
lower body strength and get better at getting his hands on
defenders before they can do it to him. He’s still waiting to find
out if he’ll be invited to New York for the opening night of the
draft on April 25. If not, he’ll either put together a party around
Norman or at home in Texas.
”The hay’s in the barn,” Johnson said, ”so now you just kind
of sit back and see what happens.”