Question after question has arisen during the Oklahoma offensive tackle’s career. What position should he play? When will his exceptional athletic skills translate to the field? Can he become an quality left tackle as a senior?
Lane Johnson started his Sooners career at tight end before moving to defensive end and then offensive tackle.
This season, Johnson has answered several of those questions as arguably the most improved player on the roster. As the starting left tackle, Johnson is one of the main reasons OU tied for No. 20 nationally in sacks allowed with 14. In 245 pass attempts in their final five games, the Sooners offensive line allowed just two sacks.
"He's probably one of the best all-around athletes on the team,” quarterback Landry Jones said. “He's extremely athletic, and he's made huge leaps in his technique and playing that tackle position this year alone. I think he has set himself up to make a lot of money in the future.”
At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds, Johnson’s NFL stock could be on the rise as players with his athletic ability and size are hard to find. He’s the No. 112 overall and the No. 12 offensive tackle prospect in the 2013 NFL draft, according to Scouts Inc.
“It took us some time to find the right spot for him, but it's really paid off for him,” coach Bob Stoops said of Johnson who played tight end, defensive end and right tackle before landing at left tackle as a senior. “He's got a big upside. He hasn't played offensive tackle that long. He can go, he'll test well [at the NFL combine].”
Some questions still remain, however. And Johnson is using those doubting his NFL prospects as fuel.
Twice in December, Johnson, who doesn’t tweet often, took to Twitter with his displeasure. After All-Big 12 selections were announced, Johnson, who earned honorable mention, tweeted “These All-Big 12 team selections are a joke” on Dec. 5. Ten days later, Johnson again hit the social media website after he felt he was wronged, tweeting “I’m going to make this idiot eat his words” with a link to screen grab of an NFL draft analyst questioning his athleticism while saying he’d be a late round pick.
“It gets me fired up when people tell me I can’t do anything,” he said. “I take it personal.”
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There many not be a better opportunity to prove his skeptics wrong than the Cotton Bowl. When OU faces Texas A&M at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas on Jan. 4, Johnson goes head-to-head with Aggies defensive end Damontre Moore, who tied for second in the SEC in sacks with 12.5 and is the No. 2 overall prospect in the NFL draft according to Scouts Inc.
“I look forward to playing in big games like this,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for me to showcase my skills. I’m looking forward to showing what I can do against Damontre Moore.”
The matchup could end up being one of the key individual battles in the game. If Johnson wins, Jones will have more time to find the Sooners receivers, sparking the passing attack which was one of the keys to their strong finish. If Moore wins, Jones could be forced to make quick decisions and even quicker throws, increasing the chance of negative plays for OU’s offense.
Having played against Moore when OU beat the Aggies in 2011, Johnson knows what he’s getting into against the Aggie defensive end. Although the pair lined up on opposite sides of the field and didn’t match up consistently in the game, Johnson faced Moore enough to know his strengths.
“He’s really quick off the ball,” Johnson said. “He’s good with his hands, has really long arms, once he gets that into your chest, it’s a pretty big advantage for him.”
It’s essentially a perfect on-field interview for Johnson, who knows he needs to play well for the Sooners to have a chance to win and to improve his draft stock. If Johnson can have a strong game, like he did against Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, another quality NFL prospect, it would be a sign the senior might have answers for any questions that arise about his ability.
“I’m just trying to prove myself, all over again,” he said.