Johnson hopes third time’s the charm
Oklahoma tackle has also played tight end and on defensive line
NORMAN, Okla. -- Lane Johnson never expected his football career to go like this.
The lanky Texan who doubled as a quarterback and free safety in high school is now all bulked up and pushing for a starting spot on Oklahoma's offensive line. And that's just the latest switch.
Johnson joined the Sooners out of junior college expecting to make the switch from signal-caller to tight end. When that didn't work out, he gave defensive end a try. Then he was asked to make the change to left tackle.
This time, it seems as though he's finally found a home.
“Learning the position, it takes time, but everything's worked out perfectly so far,” Johnson said.
Assistant coach Bruce Kittle considers Johnson among his top three tackles, along with Donald Stephenson and freshman Daryl Williams. Jarvis Jones, whose spring knee injury prompted Johnson's latest move, is expected to miss the first month of the season.
“Lane's progressed really well and done everything we've asked,” said Kittle, who's in charge of tackles and tight ends. “He just hasn't had a lot of reps at that position ... so every day he's getting better. Aiming points, footwork, blocking out, his pass (protection's) improving.”
“I feel like he's right on pace for where he should be to help us.”
Johnson initially resisted a tryout at a third different position in a two-year span. After switching to defensive end midway through last season, he got onto the field a few times late last year without recording any statistics.
But with two weeks left in spring practice, the junior realized he was a third-string defensive end and might be able to make an impact back on offense.
“It's been a crazy process,” Johnson said. “I would have never thought I was playing tackle in college. I've always thought of playing a skill position.”
Johnson said he was about his current height -- 6-foot-6 -- while in high school but he weighed only 205 to 210 pounds at that time. He arrived at Oklahoma from Kilgore (Texas) College around 225 pounds and he's packed on about 75 more in two years since -- with a little bit of a pause during his days on defense.
“I really had to watch what I was eating because if I ate too much, I could get on the scale and gain five pounds in a day and just keep on going,” Johnson said. “I really watched what I ate. Now, just moving to tackle, it's a food fest. I get to eat whatever I want and try to pack on the calories.”
Johnson said he's trying to make sure he doesn't put on any “sloppy pounds'' just because he's not restricted any more. A recent test suggested his frame could carry up to 315 pounds.
“I'm a big milk drinker. I'll usually drink like half a gallon of milk every night or get a shake and try to get some extra calories in there,” Johnson said. “I really do like to eat.”
Johnson said he never really got noticed by recruiters while playing at Class A Groveton in high school. His coach, Keith Thomas, played for the Sooners in the 1970s and finally helped him make a connection with former offensive line coach and current director of football operations Merv Johnson during junior college.
He was first offered a scholarship by TCU, but chose Oklahoma instead.
“Lane came in as a tight end and then kept gaining weight and started bouncing around to different positions,” quarterback Landry Jones said.
“He's just so athletic, you try to find a spot for him on the field. He's 300 pounds now but still runs like a 4.6, 4.7. You've got to find a spot for that guy on the field. There's not a lot of guys that can be that big and move that quickly.”
Jones, though, likely doesn't need to worry about his new protector taking away any of his passing attempts any time soon.
“My gun's kind of rusty. I haven't thrown in a while,” Lane Johnson said. “I'm kind of tight up there in the shoulder, but I think I could still hum it a little bit.”