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April 26, 2013
Johnson's rise to this position wasn't flashy. It was winding, frustrating and circuitous.
Johnson becomes the fifth offensive linemen in the Bob Stoops era to be drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. While none of these players were highly coveted five-star high school talent, Johnson's path proves first round draft picks rarely involve a lot of flash.
Stoops inherited first-round pick Stockar McDougal in 1999. Jammal Brown and Davin Joseph both entered the OU program as defensive tackle prospects and became first-round picks in the NFL Draft.
Trent Williams surprised everyone by starting as a true freshmen, then eventually being selected the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
It's almost comical for any program to put these many linemen in the first round of the NFL Draft, but Stoops just seems to have a nose for it.
Even though a combination of development and athleticism is the common denominator in all of these players, Johnson was the one who came out of high school as a quarterback. He ended up at a junior college even though he was fully qualified out of high school.
Oklahoma saw enough in his first year at JUCO to offer him a scholarship. The Sooners switched him to tight end, to defensive end, back to tight end, then to right tackle, and finally to left tackle.
Now he's celebrating one of the rarest of rare accomplishments, being selected in the top five picks of the NFL Draft.
"I think the toughest was actually from quarterback to tight end for me, from being such a glorified position to tight end, where your hands to the dirt and there's a lot of physicality involved, so that was probably the toughest transition," said Lane Johnson after his selection by Philly.
"Going to tackle, my first year, junior year, was a lot of learning experience. It kinda felt very weird because I had been a skill position player my whole life, and then going to tackle was just a weird experience. But going into my senior year, I knew I had the talent, and I just kept on working and developing, and things went well for me."
What the Eagles liked as much as anything, is that Johnson still has a ceiling to reach.
"We felt he was the most athletic tackle that we've seen," said new Eagles coach Chip Kelly. "He has a huge upside. He hasn't played a ton of offensive tackle, but he has played the right side and the left side. He has experience at both sides."
You sometimes wonder if Bob Stoops is just lucky to put all these offensive linemen in the NFL. But there's more to it than that.
Jammal Brown's NFL career is in peril due to injuries, but he's been an All-Pro left tackle. Davin Joseph has been a cornerstone of Tampa Bay's offensive line. Trent Williams is one of the best young tackles in football with the Washington Redskins.
Even other linemen such as Chris Chester and Phil Loadholt have had standout careers in the league.
These are all players who got it, the difference between working for a dream and expecting one.
Stoops' evaluations and reports on offensive linemen carry weight with the league. Kelly said Stoops' comments on Johnson were a big part of the Eagles decision to draft Johnson with the No. 4 overall pick.
"I know Bob Stoops extremely well," explained Kelly "I've talked to Bob extensively about him in the last week. He just remarked about what a tough player he is and a selfless player that he is. He's moved positions. He just wants to play and will be a great addition to our team."
Having Stoops confidence was also something Johnson earned over the last two seasons at Oklahoma.
The fact Brown and Joseph made the sacrifice to play a less glamorous position and had success is something Stoops seems to appreciate. Stoops went to bat for those guys with NFL decision makers.
Then again, who wouldn't for those types of players. Stoops recognizes players that get it done.
Thought all his talks with the people closest to Johnson, Kelly learned he was exactly what he was looking for in his first pick as the new head coach of the Eagles.
"Part of what we want to do in bringing guys into this program, we want guys that love playing football. Not what football gets them, but actually love playing the game, and that's what this kid did," said Kelly. "He's come from an unbelievable background, in terms of, didn't get recruited out of high school, went to a junior college - it was a real, real small high school - went to a junior college, get an opportunity.
"When Oklahoma saw him and saw his athleticism, said, 'We don't know what position you're gonna be, but if you come you can just play.' Real selfless guy and just loves playing the game. Doesn't care if he was an offensive player or defensive player. Didn't care if he was a tight end, a defensive end, an offensive tackle, he just wants to play."