Oklahoma Sooners: Lane Johnson

The spring evaluation period is upon us.

Oklahoma has made a living out of evaluating and developing well, helping the Sooners go 51-15 during their past five seasons, which includes four straight seasons with double-digit wins. During Bob Stoops' tenure, the Sooners have been able to consistently compete for championships thanks in part to their ability to land hidden gems like Aaron Colvin and Dominique Alexander. This week we’ll count the top five, starting with ...

No. 5 Lane Johnson, offensive tackle, Class of 2009

Recruiting rank: Unranked tight end out of Kilgore (Texas) junior college

What we said: N/A

Other reported offers: N/A

Career production: Johnson started 25 of 26 games in his final two seasons. ... In 2009, he redshirted. ... In 2010, his first season was spent at tight end and defensive end as the Sooners searched for the right position for the freakishly athletic Johnson before he switched to offensive tackle in the spring of 2011. ... In the fall of 2011, Johnson started 12 of 13 games at right tackle as he finally found a home and became productive in crimson and cream. ... In 2012, Johnson shifted to left tackle and started 13 games and earned second team All-Big 12 honors before being selected No. 4 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 NFL draft.

Why Johnson is No. 5: As far as simply unearthing a hidden gem from out of nowhere, Johnson should sit atop this list. But his actual production and impact on the program fall short in comparison to the remainder of the top five. Johnson was terrific during two of the four years he was in Norman, Okla., after arriving as a former junior college quarterback who OU considered worth taking a flyer on because the Sooners liked his upside. Overall, the risk was worth it, as he ended up being a key contributor during his final two seasons.

Realistically, the Sooners' development of Johnson was just as important as their ability to evaluate him. Once he got on campus, he put on weight, and they were willing to move him around until he found a home. Now that he settled into the tackle position and excelled, Johnson is likely to have a better NFL career than collegiate career and make more money than he ever dreamed because the Sooners were open-minded during their evaluation of him. They remained patient when he joined the campus and eventually found the right position for his future.

The rest of the list:

No. 6: DE Charles Tapper
No. 7: LB Eric Striker
No. 8: LB Dominique Alexander
No. 9: CB Demontre Hurst
No. 10: G Tyler Evans

Grading the class: 2009

February, 3, 2014
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Oklahoma is poised to add several recruits on Wednesday with an eye on creating the foundation of a future championship team. Yet recruiting is an inexact science. Some projected stars rise to meet high expectations while others struggle to make a difference in the Big 12. Thus it’s the perfect time to look back at OU’s last five recruiting classes. On Monday we begin with a review of the Class of 2009, including recruits who exceeded expectations, recruits who were solid signees, and those who were busts.

When OU signed this group in February 2009, it looked like a quality class that could feature some future stars. Yet the best and most productive players signed were afterthoughts on signing day. The class was ranked No. 11 nationally by ESPN.com.

Transcendent figures

Center Gabe Ikard: A high school tight end who developed into an All-Big 12 interior lineman, Ikard is the perfect example of terrific evaluation by OU. He didn’t have the traits to become an elite tight end, but ESPN.com’s No. 19 ranked tight end had intelligence, a physical nature and toughness that made him perfect for a move inside. He earned 50 career starts after a redshirt season in 2009 and earned All-Big 12 first-team honors in each of his final three seasons.

[+] EnlargeLane Johnson
Rick Yeatts/Getty ImagesLane Johnson was unranked coming out of Groveton, Texas, but became the No. 4 pick in the NFL draft in 2013.
Tackle Lane Johnson: The unknown Johnson went from afterthought to NFL top-five draft pick. He played several positions in junior college, then lined up at tight end, defensive end and tackle at OU before being selected No. 4 overall by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2013 NFL draft. He was solid and versatile during his two years as a starting tackle for the Sooners.

Cornerback Demontre Hurst: A three-year starter, Hurst was consistent and durable during his time as a cornerback for the Sooners. The No. 58-ranked cornerback in the nation, Hurst finished his career with 178 tackles and 33 pass breakups after stepping on campus with minimal fanfare.

Bull's-eye

Safety Javon Harris: The No. 32-ranked safety in the nation, Harris was a two-year starter and contributor on special teams throughout his career. He finished with 162 career tackles and nine interceptions in 44 career games (21 starts).

Defensive end Ronnell Lewis: Lewis, No. 83 in the ESPN 150, would have exceed expectations if he had remained in school for all four seasons. He was on the path to have a dominant senior season but chose to leave early. Nonetheless he was a force on special teams as soon as he stepped on campus then developed into a quality defensive end as a junior. He had 118 tackles, including 20.5 tackles for loss, and started at least one game during each of his three seasons, finishing with 14 starts in 34 games.

Guard Tyler Evans: The No. 25 offensive guard in the nation, Evans started in 29 games in three seasons as a Sooner before knee injuries derailed his career. If every offensive lineman the Sooners recruited turned out like Evans, they’d be pretty happy.

Defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland: As the No. 54 player in the ESPN 150, McFarland shouldered a lofty ranking and expectations to match Gerald McCoy and Tommie Harris when he arrived on campus. He fell short of that duo, but he was a valuable asset during his final three seasons with the Sooners. He started 22 games and had at least 20 tackles for three consecutive seasons.

Safety Gabe Lynn: Another guy who had high expectations as the No. 80 player in the rankings and another guy who started games in each of his final three seasons. Lynn never became a star, but he was a key piece in an OU defense that ranked among the Big 12's best during his final two seasons. He had 116 tackles and four interceptions in 44 career games (25 starts).

Completely missed the mark

Linebacker Gus Jones: The No. 8 inside linebacker never stepped on the field at OU. He transferred after one semester in Norman.

Overall grade: B

Not an outstanding recruiting class, but far from a bad class. Some of the projected stars turned out to be just starters, but hidden gems such as Ikard, Johnson and Hurst elevated this grade above average. A class that won a lot of games, but the lack of skill-position stars meant it wasn’t strong enough to be the foundation of a national championship run.
NORMAN, Okla.--Tyrus Thompson won’t talk about it but the pipeline from starting left tackle at the University of Oklahoma to NFL roster has been pretty strong in recent years.

2012 starter Lane Johnson was the No. 4 overall selection of the 2013 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, 2010-11 starter Donald Stephenson started seven games for the Kansas City Chiefs as a rookie and 2009 starter Trent Williams earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2012 as a member of the Washington Redskins.

[+] EnlargeTyrus Thompson
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesTyrus Thompson returns to OU for 2014 and will team with Tyrus Thompson to give the Sooners what could be the Big 12's best tackle duo.
“I am not so much focused on the NFL right now,” said Thompson, the favorite to replace Johnson in the starting lineup. “I’m focused on here at Oklahoma, winning a national championship, winning all our games. You know I’m just focused on my time here right now, do the best I can here and when that time comes, that time comes. I'm just taking it day by day.”

It’s a good stance to take as the Sooners signed junior college tackle Josiah St. John in February, largely to ramp up the competition at both tackle spots and ensure Thompson isn’t just sliding into Johnson’s spot without winning the job on the practice field.

This is nothing new to Thompson. The redshirt junior had a heated battle with Johnson to man the position in 2012 before the eventual top-five NFL draft pick beat him out for the starting job.

Thompson had a solid 2012 campaign anyway, playing in all 13 contests, starting five games including starts at left and right tackle. Even though he wasn’t listed as the starter for the majority of the season at either position, he gained valuable experience that the Sooners hope will pay off this fall.

“I have had a lot of good reps,” he said. “I would say that experience really does help a lot, but once again every position is a battle right now. No one is handed anything.”

St. John is likely Thompson’s top competition at left tackle during preseason camp with Jake Reed and Derek Farniok also figuring into the mix. St. John didn't arrive in Norman until days before preseason camp but Thompson doesn’t feel like he has the starting left tackle spot already locked up.

“Everyone is competing for a job right now so I shouldn’t say that but I do have a lot of confidence in myself,” he said.

When the injury bug hit the offensive line last season, Thompson slid in seamlessly at right or left tackle. That opportunity to playing multiple positions and his overall game experience makes it hard to imagine Thompson standing on the sidelines when the Sooners’ first-team offense takes its initial snap of 2013.

“One big thing that I learned last year is that if you make a mistake, don’t hold on to that mistake because it’s going to mess you up for future reps,” said Thompson, who has played in 18 career games in two years at OU. “You let that mistake go and you keep playing, just like they tell [defensive backs]. That would be the one big thing I took from last year.”

Even if St. John, Farniok or Reed don’t emerge to push Thompson during preseason camp, the Pflugerville, Texas native has plans to push himself to further heights. Even though he won’t admit thinking about his NFL dreams, he has eyes on pushing himself to become the best tackle he can be, which could, ultimately, place his name alongside Johnson, Stephenson and Williams on a NFL roster.

“I am pretty confident in myself, but you can improve everything,” Thompson said. “No one is perfect in anything, even Joe Staley for the 49ers, as great as he is, I’m sure if you ask him, there’s things that he can improve on.”

Oklahoma Sooners spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
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OKLAHOMA SOONERS

2012 record: 10-3

2012 conference record: 8-1 (tied for first, Big 12)

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, C Gabe Ikard, DE/DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin

Key losses

QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, WR Kenny Stills, OT Lane Johnson, DE David King, CB Demontre Hurst, FS Tony Jefferson, SS Javon Harris

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Damien Williams* (946 yards)
Passing: Landry Jones (4,267yards)
Receiving: Kenny Stills (959 yards)
Tackles: Tony Jefferson (119)
Sacks: Chuka Ndulue* (5)
Interceptions: Javon Harris (6)

Spring answers

1. Playmakers abound: The Sooners might have lost leading receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, but there’s plenty of firepower back to support whoever wins the starting quarterback job. Jalen Saunders was actually Oklahoma’s most efficient receiver the second half of last season and seems primed to take over as the go-to target. The Sooners also have several talented up-and-coming receivers who had good springs, led by slot extraordinaire Sterling Shepard. The backfield is even deeper, with leading rushers Damien Williams and Brennan Clay back, to go along with Trey Millard, one of the top all-around fullbacks in the country.

2. Cortez will flank Colvin: The secondary was decimated by graduation and Tony Jefferson’s early entry into the NFL draft. One of those voids was cornerback, where Demontre Hurst had started the previous years. That void at least, however, appears to have been filled. Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson seized the job from the first day of spring drills, and has given the Sooners every indication to believe they’ll have a big, physical corner to pair with All-American candidate Aaron Colvin in the fall.

3. The linebackers will play: In a desperate move to slow down the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops pulled his linebackers off the field. The plan backfired, as opposing offenses ran at will over the linebacker-less Sooners. This spring, Stoops has renewed his commitment to the linebacker, which, ironically, could be the strength of the defense. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin are all athletic and capable of generating negative plays, something Oklahoma’s defense sorely lacked last season.

Fall questions

1. Who the QB will be in October: Bob Stoops said he would wait until the fall before naming a starter, and so far, he’s made good on his word. Junior Blake Bell took a lead in the competition during the spring, as expected. But sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who both got equal reps as Bell, played well at times, too. It’s hard to see Bell not starting the first game. But if he struggles against a tough September schedule, it’s not unthinkable one of the younger QBs would be given a shot.

2. How the new offense will fare: Looking to utilize the skill sets of their mobile quarterbacks, the Sooners will be running a very different offense from the one Sam Bradford and Landry Jones both operated. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel kept most of these new plays - including loads of read option -- in his hip pocket during the spring game. But it will be interesting to see how the Sooners -- and just as important, opposing defenses -- adjust to this new era of offense in Norman.

3. Defensive line play: The Sooners went into spring ball with just three defensive tackles on the roster, and little experience at defensive end. The unit showed strides during the spring, with Chuka Ndulue making a smooth transition from end to tackle, and tackle Jordan Phillips coming up big in the spring game. But that was the spring. The defensive line will have to continue to grow rapidly in the fall for the Sooners to have any hope of improving from last year defensively.

Looking ahead: Sooners in 2014 draft 

April, 29, 2013
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NORMAN, Okla. -- On Thursday, offensive tackle Lane Johnson became the 13th Sooner under Bob Stoops to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. In 2014, Stoops could have another first-rounder in cornerback Aaron Colvin.

SoonerNation breaks down Colvin’s prospects as well as what the rest of the 2014 OU draft class could look like:

Video: Eagles select OU's Lane Johnson

April, 25, 2013
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Todd McShay breaks down the Eagles' selection of Oklahoma offensive tackle Lane Johnson.
NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has had a dozen players get picked in the first round of the NFL draft during his tenure in Norman.

No one, though, quite like Lane Johnson.

[+] EnlargeLane Johnson
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsLane Johnson will continue the Sooners' tradition of producing first-round offensive linemen.
The Oklahoma left tackle could go as high as fourth overall to the Philadelphia Eagles or fifth to the Detroit Lions in this week's draft. No mock draft has him going lower than No. 11.

“The more he plays it and the more he matures,” Stoops said, “he’s just going to get better and better.”

A little over two years ago, Johnson wasn't even playing offensive line. Four years ago, in fact, he was still a junior-college quarterback, whom the Sooners recruited out Kilgore, Texas, to play, well, they weren’t quite sure.

“When we recruited him and signed him, we did so on just what a big athlete he was,” Stoops said. “Not having an idea where he’d end up growing.”

Johnson started out as a tight end. The following year, he was moved to defensive end. Neither position seemed to fit.

But in the spring of 2011, starting right tackle Jarvis Jones suffered a torn patella tendon that would sideline him for months. That prompted the Sooners to test Johnson out at offensive tackle.

“We were always trying to find the best spot for Lane, and we knew even before then that [tackle] was a possibility,” Stoops said. “We were always looking because we appreciated how hard he worked -- like, we’ve got to get him on the field.

(Read full post)

Video: OT Lane Johnson highlights

April, 22, 2013
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Watch highlights from NFL draft prospect Lane Johnson, a former Oklahoma offensive tackle.

Radio: Lane Johnson on SVP & Russillo

April, 19, 2013
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Former Oklahoma tackle and NFL prospect Lane Johnson chats about his meteoric rise up teams' draft boards, his preparations for the draft, his relative inexperience at the tackle position and the incredible depth at offensive line in this year's class.

Listen to the audio here.

Video: Top offensive linemen in NFL draft

March, 26, 2013
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Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay discuss the top offensive linemen in the NFL draft.

Weak and Strong: Oklahoma Sooners

March, 25, 2013
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Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: Oklahoma.

Strongest position: Offensive line.

Don't discount Landry Jones' experience and decision-making, but Oklahoma threw the ball 571 times last year -- more than everyone in the Big 12 but Texas Tech -- and gave up just 15 sacks, third-fewest in the Big 12. The Sooners have good depth at running back but not a true gamebreaker, and the offense still averaged 4.85 yards a carry, third-most in the Big 12. Oklahoma dealt with a ton of injuries on the offensive line and at the end of the season, was basically reduced to five guys who could play and depended on true freshman Ty Darlington at times, too. The unit loses tackle Lane Johnson, but Gabe Ikard is the Big 12's best offensive lineman and returns alongside Adam Shead, Bronson Irwin and Tyrus Thompson. This unit perhaps could have been better than it was in 2011, which is part of the reason you saw position coach James Patton shown the door in favor of WVU's Bill Bedenbaugh, but it should be a big strength yet again in 2013. I'd say it's definitely the Sooners' best overall position. The Sooners fought through the loss of center Ben Habern and guard Tyler Evans in preseason camp last year, and Evans is out again after injuring his knee this spring. Here's betting Oklahoma fills the void yet again.

Weakest position: Defensive line

If you watched the Cotton Bowl, you know all you need to know about this position for the Sooners. Texas A&M had arguably the nation's best offensive line, but the Sooners D-line looked like a bunch of high schoolers for much of the game, applying zero pressure to Johnny Manziel and letting him get loose for a record-breaking game in a blowout loss. The Sooners lose four seniors along the line, leaving behind just Chuka Ndulue, Jordan Phillips and Mike Onuoha as contributors from last year's D-line that helped Oklahoma rank just 108th nationally in tackles for loss and 94th nationally in run defense. Oklahoma needs a big upgrade at this position to return to prominence, and I'm not sure the answer to the Sooners being as good along the front line of the defense is coming anywhere but on the recruiting trail.

More Weak and Strong.

Roundtable: Second Sooner taken in draft 

March, 14, 2013
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Every Thursday, the SoonerNation staff will answer a roundtable question about OU football. Leave a comment or talk about it in our "There's Only One" forum.

Today's question: We know Lane Johnson will be the first Sooner taken in the 2013 NFL draft. Who will be the second Oklahoma player to come off the board?


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Video: John Clayton on OT Lane Johnson

February, 24, 2013
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John Clayton believes that Lane Johnson has already made a strong impression at the NFL Combine.
After recruiting them for several months, Oklahoma's coaching staff was finally able to talk publicly about the players the Sooners added to the program on signing day. Over the next week or so, SoonerNation will review some of the key things coaches had to say about the players signed at each position group during their signing day webcast on Soonersports.com.

Oklahoma hopes it landed an offensive tackle with terrific long-term upside in Christian Daimler (Houston/Stratford). A 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, Diamler is a lanky tackle with room to grow physically and mentally. The Sooners coaching staff repeatedly compared him to a departing starter on signing day.

"We [signed] an excellent athlete in Christian Daimler," head coach Bob Stoops said. "He’s a guy that reminds us a lot of Lane Johnson. Last check he’s taller than 6-6, almost 6-7, 285 or 90 pounds and is a good athlete."

The Sooners raved about Johnson's athleticism during his time in Norman, Okla. Now he's a potential first-round pick. OU hopes the same happens with Daimler, who is showing traits of unique athleticism at his size.

"He bends well, he uses his hands well and he stays on his feet," running backs coach Cale Gundy said.

One attribute that really stood out about Daimler is his ability to be athletic and keep his feet throughout a play, allowing him to make a bigger overall impact on plays. It wasn't unusual to see Johnson running down the field to get in position to make a downfield block. Diamler has shown similar traits.

"This is one of the guys we were able to spend time with at the satelitte camp in Houston," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "[He has] incredible length. When we watch offensive linemen it’s important to see guys with athletic ability who play hard, are hard-nosed but also can keep their feet. It’s difficult to find big people who can stay alive, keep their feet and stay on people and also play with the aggressiveness and toughness. You want to see a guy who dominates the line of scrimmage and pushes people around."

Position breakdown: Offensive line 

February, 20, 2013
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NORMAN. Okla. -- The players on the offensive line will be largely the same in 2013. The coach directing them will not.

One of the first moves Bob Stoops made after signing day was firing Bruce Kittle and James Patton and replacing them with Bill Bedenbaugh, who was formerly at West Virginia.


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