Adam Caplan just reported the Eagles are working out OT Lane Johnson, the ultra-athletic blocker from Oklahoma. Jeff McLane was able to confirm that and put up a short blog post on Johnson. This isn’t a visit to NovaCare. This is a workout.
The distinction is that if Johnson is in Philly, he’s just visiting. For it to be an on-field workout, the Eagles have to go to him. There isn’t necessarily a huge difference in importance. Usually bringing a prospect to your place is considered the most serious, but that is hardly a rule that is written in stone.
What should we make of the Johnson workout?
First, the Eagles are bound to like him. I have written a few times this year that Johnson could actually be their favorite OT of the Joeckel-Fisher-Johnson trio. Here’s something from just a couple of weeks back:
“Lane Johnson at 4 may seem early. I’m trying to think like Chip Kelly and the Eagles might be thinking. Johnson does make a lot of sense. He is the most athletic of the stud OTs. Chip loves athletes. Johnson played RT in 2011 and LT in 2012. He could step in at RT this spring and play right away. This wouldn’t be a crazy projection where you hope he could handle playing on that side. If anything happens to Jason Peters, you could slide him to the left side.
Johnson also has a really good nasty streak. He loves to pound guys into the ground. I think he plays with a chip on his shoulder and Kelly would love that.”
It wouldn’t shock me at all to see the Eagles take Johnson at #4, whether another OT is on the board or not.
There is another reason the Eagles could want to work out Johnson and have the reports leak. Trading back. It feels like a virtual lock that Andy Reid will take an OT at #1. Most feel he’ll go for Joeckel, but Fisher seems a lot like an Andy Reid guy to me. Regardless of who is taken, the Jags and Raiders could each go for an OT. There are some OT needy teams after the Eagles.
If 2 of the big 3 are gone, you have to wonder what Detroit, San Diego, Arizona, and Miami will be thinking. The Lions are just a spot behind the Eagles, but as we’ve discussed, teams move up one spot for a player on a regular basis. If the Lions covet an OT, they’ll pay the price to make sure they get their man.
The Chargers should be desperate for OT help. They don’t have any extra picks, but may feel moving up is so crucial that they are willing to pay the price.
The Dolphins are the real team to watch. They have extra 2nd and 3rd round picks. Moving up from #12 to #4 would be pricey, but doable. The question with them is what they’re thinking. They showed little interest in keeping Jake Long around. They shifted RT Jonathan Martin to LT. He didn’t light it up at RT and some think the Dolphins are nuts. Do they trust Martin at LT? If they only need a RT, then moving up to #4 doesn’t make sense. I don’t have a good feel for them and what they may do.
We’re pretty sure the Chiefs will go OT. The Lions should go OT, especially if Fisher or Joeckel somehow fall that far. Teams really wanting an OT might see that trading up to #4 is the safe way to go to make sure they get one of the top guys.
I’m sure the Eagles like Lane Johnson. Question is whether they love him. I bet they could.
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We talked about Chip Kelly’s philosophy in regard to the OL in the previous post. Some wondered about Kelly being arrogant if he thought his system could get by without elite OTs. That’s going too far.
You can’t have elite players at every position. That’s simply impossible. At some spots you have to decide on spending premium picks vs developing players. The great Cowboys teams of Jimmy Johnson spent 1st round picks on WR, RB, and QB. The OL was dominant, but didn’t feature high picks. The 1992 group…
LT Mark Tuinei – inherited veteran
LG Nate Newton – inherited veteran
OC Mark Stepnoski – 3rd Rd pick
RG John Gesek – FA from the Raiders
RT Erik Williams – 3rd Rd pick
Larry Allen was added to the mix as a 2nd Rd pick. Kevin Gogan was a veteran FA that played. Later Ray Donaldson was added as a FA. Jimmy Johnson and Norv Turner felt that they could build a good OL with good talent, a balanced scheme, and a smart QB. That’s exactly what happened. This wasn’t arrogance. It was a plan they put into action and it worked.
Andy Reid put a premium on the OL and focused his resources there. He felt he could develop skills players.
You don’t have to adhere to one philosophy or the other. You do need to have a specific plan and you must act accordingly.
I don’t know what Chip Kelly is going to think. Remember, we’re not talking about ignoring anything. We’re talking about spending 1st and 2nd round picks on a position as opposed to mid-round picks and adding select veterans. Might be interesting to go back and study recent Super Bowl teams to see if they went more for OL or skill players with early offensive draft picks.
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The recent talk about Star Lotulelei has some people once again asking about the different DL spots.
5-tech DE – The best player at this position is JJ Watt. He’s 6-5, 290. He has the ability to play the run and rush the passer. That makes him an elite player. Seattle’s Red Bryant plays the same position, but is 6-4, 330. He cannot rush the passer, but is a dominating run defender. He sets the edge and controls it. Calais Campbell is a DE for the Cardinals at 6-7, 300. Like Watt, he’s able to play the run and get after the QB. That gives him added value.
Ideally, you want a player to be at least 6-4, 300. You would like long arms. The player must be a good run defender and solid pass rusher.
1-tech NT – This player lines up on the shoulder of the Center. The NT is either going to shoot a gap or take on a double team. In pure 3-4 systems, the NT is a 2-gap player that plays straight up and must control the gap on both sides of the C. Think about Ted Washington, Vince Wilfork, and Casey Hampton. The 1-tech can be someone like Jay Ratliff, who is 6-4, 300. Bryan Robinson played the position for Bill Davis in Arizona at 6-4, 305. The Eagles went big in adding Isaac Sopoaga, who is 6-2, 330. Does this mean the team will run more of a true 3-4? That’s possible, but could also be that he’s just a guy they really liked and his size wasn’t the key.
3-tech DT – This player lines up on the outside shoulder of the OG. Warren Sapp is the prototype for a 3-tech. Size isn’t an issue. Ability is the focus here. The 3-tech must have a great motor. He must be quick off the ball and able to fire upfield. His job is to penetrate and be disruptive. This player should be somewhat of a playmaker.
Star Lotulelei is of interest to the Eagles because he can play all 3 spots. He’s 6-3, 311. Has 33 5/8 arms. That’s solid for all 3 spots. Gives him enough bulk to anchor vs the run, but he’s also light and agile enough to fire upfield and make plays. He had 5 sacks and 3 FFs this year. The Eagles would use him at DE to begin with.
Shariff Floyd is also versatile. I don’t think I’d want him at NT, though. Floyd is 6-3, 297. His arms are a bit short at 31 3/4. Floyd started at both DE and 3-tech at Florida. He can play both spots in the NFL. Floyd wasn’t a great pass rusher in college, but did have 13 TFLs this year and was very disruptive. I think the Eagles would put him at the 3-tech spot.
In order to do that, the Eagles would move Fletcher Cox to the 5-tech. Cox has the size at 6-4, 300. He has long arms at 34 1/2 inches. In case anyone has forgotten how athletic he was, Fletcher ran 4.79 at the Combine. He also did 30 reps on the bench. That is speed, strength, and good size. Cox can play anywhere on the DL. I think he could even be a NT. I just don’t think that would be an ideal use of his athleticism.
The big difference in Lotulelei and Floyd is speed/agility. Floyd ran the 40 in 4.92 and had a 3-cone time of 7.40. Lotulelei ran the 40 in 5.31 and had a 3-cone time of 7.66. Floyd is 14 pounds lighter, but that doesn’t account for the difference in those numbers. Star is a guy that can explode off the ball, but he’s best in a short area. Floyd is the guy who can chase the play down. Star had 4 fewer solo tackles despite playing significantly more downs. It isn’t a question of motor. Both guys play hard. Floyd is just faster. His agility also made him an effective pass rusher off the edge. Lotulelei is going to struggle with that.
The Eagles have choices on the DL. We just have to see which players they have targeted, what skills/traits they are focused on, and how they want to align everyone.