Johnson Adapts to New Role on O-Line

NORMAN, Okla. — Left tackle Lane Johnson admits at first he was hesitant to make the switch, yet another position switch, from defensive end to offensive tackle.

"When Jarvis went down, they asked me at the first of spring if I wanted to play [there], and I was real hesitant," Johnson said. "And I said, ‘No, I want to stick at D-end.'"

But ultimately, he elected to make the switch.

"A couple weeks, later I was struggling at D-end, and I knew that the offense needed some help," Johnson said. "So, I moved to tackle."

And so far, it's worked out well for him, as he's now in a heated battle with fellow left tackle Donald Stephenson for the starting spot.

"It just really came natural to me, just blocking, getting that from tight end, the blocking schemes and stuff, and it just really came natural to me," Johnson said.

Teammates have even noticed the smoothness of his transition to the O-line.

"He's played like three different positions, but he's looking pretty good," Stephenson said. "He's learning every day, getting better every day, keeping me on my toes. So, you know, I appreciate it and keeping me working hard."

Fellow left side offensive lineman, guard Gabe Ikard, added onto that.

"He's done what he needs to do to get on the field," Ikard said. "I mean, the kid is unbelievably athletic, still probably around like maybe--he definitely runs under 4-8 probably. The kid can fly and has like a 10-foot-3 broad jump. His numbers are ridiculous. He's like a superhuman person."

Quarterback Landry Jones also commented about his athleticism.

"Yeah, Lane came in as a tight end and then kept gaining weight, started bouncing around to different positions," Jones said. "He's just so athletic, you try to find a spot for him on the field. I mean, he's 300 pounds now but still runs like 4-6, 4-7, you know, so you got to find a spot for that guy on the field."

And that's what the coaching staff appears to be doing right now.

"Today, actually he moved into splitting time at the starting position for us at left tackle, so he's progressed really well," offensive tackles/tight ends coach Bruce Kittle said recently after practice. "He's in quite a battle. Really the top three guys there will be Daryl Williams at the right and Donny Stephenson and then Lane on the left, and so probably two of those three guys will be our starters.

"But Lane's progressed really well, doing everything we've asked. He just hasn't had a lot of reps at that position, so with all our zone stuff and that every day he's getting better, aiming points, footwork, locking out his pass pros, improving, so I feel like he's right on pace where he should be to help us."

All that stuff is what Johnson said is the most challenging part about the position switch.

"Just the defenses, the blitzes they bring, stuff like that, pass protection [is the most difficult part]," Johnson said.

And what else?

"Probably just eating, it's just weird having this new body and buying new clothes last year," Johnson said. "Now, they don't even fit. It's just been weird. I see myself as a big guy. I mean, it's not sort of an athlete, quarterback type, so that's probably been the [most difficult part]."

Of course, what stands him out is exactly what has made this transition so simple for him: his versatility.

As a high schooler, Johnson played quarterback and did so even for a year of junior college at Kilgore, where he completed 32-of-61 attempts for 510 yards and three touchdowns, as well as rushing for a touchdown.

Then, he moved to tight end, where he was recruited by OU before switching to defensive end.

Now, it's this step.

"Well, quarterback, it was [my] position in high school into college and sort of moved past that," Johnson recalled. "Then, going from tight end to D-end, I mean, the coaches knew I had athletic ability. They just really wanted to, you know, see what I could bring, you know, the best to the team."

Throughout all this, he claims one thing that goes along with all that.

"As long as I'm getting on the field, [I'll be happy]," Johnson said. "I mean, if I start, I start. But really I'm just looking forward to playing, you know, getting on the field, getting some experience and getting used to the tackle position, just giving everything I have."

Ikard, who echoed the rest of the team's sentiments about him, insists that won't be a problem.

"I mean, he's getting everything figured out on the field and he's going to be on the field," Ikard said. "He's going to be rotating, maybe even starting if it comes to that. But he's done a great job doing what he needs to do strength wise, size wise to get on the field and play as a lineman."

For that, the Sooners are thankful.

At the very least, the offensive line's depth just got that much better.

Follow me at twitter.com/joeyhelmer10 or facebook.com/joeyhelmer.

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