By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—Chip Kelly says he wants to win now. That’s what the new Eagles’ coach wants to do. What he would like do to. Kelly is still going to have to piece together a team from the shards of last year’s enormously bitter 4-12 finish.
But there was a twinge of Andy Reid’s outside-the-box quality to Kelly’s first pick as an NFL coach. He drafted a former high school quarterback who played just two years at offensive tackle.
Yet, Kelly is hoping he gained a big piece in the massive undertaking rebuilding this team requires when the Eagles took 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive tackle Lane Johnson, out of Oklahoma, with the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall.
“We felt [Johnson] was the most athletic tackle we’d seen,” Kelly said. “He has a huge upside. He hasn’t played a ton of offensive tackle, but he has played the right side and the left side, and he has experience at both sides. I know [Oklahoma coach] Bob Stoops extremely well and I talked to Bob extensively about [Johnson] last week.
“He remarked about what a tough player [Johnson] is and what a selfless player he is. He’s a tough, physical guy and that’s what we were looking for as we went into this draft. It’s an exciting thing when you can target people and get what you’re looking for. It’s a great addition for us. What really was a factor for us is you see a guy who’s 6-foot-6, he’s 300 pounds and he has 35-inch arms. He has an unbelievable background.”
Johnson never played offensive line until college. He was a barely recruited out of Groveton (Tx.) High School as a quarterback and safety. Johnson went on to play quarterback at Kilgore Junior College, but was converted to tight end upon transferring to Oklahoma in 2009.
Johnson was then moved to defensive end the following season. In 2011, he was moved to offensive tackle for the Sooners and has been there ever since.
“I talked to Bob, and he told me that they wanted to actually keep [Johnson] at defensive end, but because of injuries on the offensive line, they thought about moving him,” Kelly said. “He was playing defensive end at 280 pounds but he was starving himself to stay at 280. He asked his strength coach what would it take to get Lane to be 300 and play offensive tackle? His strength coach said a cheeseburger and a week. He has such an upside and that really excites us.”
The move creates some adjusting on the Eagles’ offensive line. It means Jason Peters, hopefully recovered from two ruptured Achilles tendons, stays at left tackle, Evan Mathis at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, and the Johnson choice will move Todd Herremans inside to right guard and Johnson at right tackle.
Johnson could fortify an area that was decimated by injury last season. Perennial All-Pro Peters missed the entire season. Kelce tore his MCL the second game of the season against Baltimore, and Herremans suffered a dislocated bone and ligament damage in his right foot against New Orleans in the ninth week.
Danny Watkins erratic play put him on the bench, leaving Mathis the sole starter left from the beginning of the year.
There are some small things Johnson is going to have to be coached up.
“He has some technical things he needs to work on,” Kelly said. “I mean he’s only played the position two years, so the other nuances of the position, hand placement, things like that, but the one thing you know once you’re around him is he has unbelievable work ethic. He lives and dies football. That’s the one thing that we want in this program. We want guys that love playing football, not what football gets them.”