Lane Johnson returned to the NovaCare locker room Tuesday, and the sun filtering though the skylights somehow seemed brighter, at least for the gaggle of reporters gathered around No. 65’s stall.
Johnson is a right tackle with the personality of a No. 1 wide receiver. He gets in Twitter wars with opposing players, such as Cowboys pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence just last week. Johnson dances and preens and strives to entertain, on and off the field.
“I love playing the game, I love showing my personality. Some people don’t like that. That’s just the way it is, man,” Johnson said after the first day of the Eagles’ three-day mandatory minicamp. Johnson was one of four vets who skipped optional OTAs.
The 2018 season was a tough one for Johnson, tough in a different way from the two seasons he has seen marred by banned-substance suspensions. Johnson missed the Nov. 11 loss to Dallas after suffering a left knee sprain in the Oct. 28 victory over Jacksonville, to go with the high left ankle sprain he already had suffered. Then he returned to the lineup and limped through the rest of the season.
“Last year I played with a Grade 2 MCL and a high ankle, on my left leg, so basically [during this spring’s OTAs] I was just trying to get healthy and get ready for the season,” Johnson said. “I really didn’t practice all year.”
Johnson was named to the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row, as an injury replacement for Dallas’s Tyron Smith, but he wasn’t an All-Pro, as he had been while helping the Eagles win Super Bowl LII.
Johnson said the injuries “took away a lot of power, stuff I could normally do. ... Obviously, there’s some plays you’d like to have back. … That’s the game. I feel good now, and I’m ready to go.”
Johnson spoke while wearing a black-and-red T-shirt and hat given to him by left tackle Jason Peters, both of which read “Team Peters lifetime member.”
Johnson said he could provide no context there. “He gave it to me, and I guess I’m a lifetime member. … I’m pretty happy with that,” he said.
Johnson last week called attention to the fact that he has never given up a sack to Lawrence. The context there was a Lawrence tweet that acknowledged Carson Wentz’s new four-year, $128 million contract extension by observing “The richer they get, the better it feels when we humble they a**.”
Johnson responded with a .gif of the Toronto Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard laughing awkwardly.
Tuesday, a reporter asked Johnson what he thought about Wentz’s new deal. Johnson replied that he is always happy to see players get money, “even DeMarcus Lawrence,” who signed a five-year, $105 million deal with the Cowboys this offseason.
After talking with Lawrence at the Pro Bowl, Johnson said he came away thinking that “we’re pretty much the same guy. He talks for his team, I kind of talk for my team. Sometimes it gets the better of us, sometimes we get humbled, but that’s really part of the game. I think it creates excitement.”
Earlier in the offseason, Johnson defended Wentz from a perceived dig about his injury history by the Eagles’ all-time leading passer, Donovan McNabb. Tuesday, Johnson displayed an old-school flip phone, which he said was an attempt to avoid social media temptation.
At 29, Johnson is a married father of three who aspires to be more than a talented cutup. This offseason he gave $500,000 to Kilgore College, a Texas junior college where he once played quarterback, before settling on the offensive line at Oklahoma, and then becoming the fourth overall selection in the 2013 draft. The money was for “The Lane,” an athletic performance center.
Asked about the gift, Johnson referenced the Netflix documentary series “Last Chance U,” about players struggling to keep their football dreams alive at East Mississippi Community College.
“It was really something I wanted to do. I think ‘Last Chance U’ kind of gave a good picture of what the junior college level is about,” Johnson said. “Some of the best athletes I’ve ever played with were at the junior college level, but they don’t really have very much, as far as facilities. I’m in a position now to give back. It’s something I wanted to do, something we’d talked about previous years, and it finally got done.
“I remember my first game, I was playing quarterback and I played against Jason Pierre-Paul at d-end. There’s some people coming out of juco.”
Next month, Johnson will again partner with former college offensive line coach Duke Manyweather at the Offensive Line Masterminds conference in Dallas. This was something Manyweather and Johnson started last year, for veterans and younger NFL o-linemen to get together and discuss their craft, like the pass-rush summits pioneered by Denver’s Von Miller.
“I feel like there’s not a whole lot of education on how the o-line is played,” Johnson said. “Really, I just want to get the guys together and kind of get a voice behind the o-line position, because I feel like there’s never been one. It’s just always been, ‘Bring your lunch pail and keep your mouth shut.’ ”