WHEN THE EAGLES drafted Lane Johnson fourth overall in April, nobody doubted his ability, but some observers questioned whether a guy who'd been playing offensive tackle for only 2 years was really ready to be a quality NFL starter as a rookie.
The word "raw" came up a lot.
We haven't seen that, so much; Johnson moved in as the starting right tackle and hasn't looked the least bit awkward. Through two preseason games, he hasn't had many "rookie" moments. Mostly you notice that he looks big (6-6, 303), powerful and quick, more than raw.
"If he was, he's not anymore," left guard Evan Mathis said yesterday.
Mathis said offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland has brought Johnson along quickly.
"Since he got here, I think he's made a ton of progress. It's a credit to him and coach 'Stout,' " Mathis said. "They've worked really well together, and Lane's the kind of guy who's committed to being the best football player he can be."
Johnson missed some practice time last week, having left the team early the morning after the New England game to fly home to Oklahoma for the induced birth of his son, David Jace Johnson. Most notable to reporters over the next few days was that Eagles coach Chip Kelly clearly wasn't sweating Johnson's return, as might be the case with some rookies who miss time and are being depended upon to start.
"I think it was really important for him to be there," Kelly said last week. "I think where it fell in the season, and for a guy like him who has been here every single day since we drafted him, his attention to detail, how hard he works and all of that, it was absolutely no question.
"There are certain things that I think come up in everybody's life that kind of supersede what we're doing out here. So he didn't seem to miss a beat when he jumped right back in."
Johnson said yesterday the baby isn't sleeping much, so neither are he and his wife, Chelsea.
"[Fatherhood] is a trip. That's a feeling I've never felt before," he said. "Lot of sleepless nights. Gotta get used to that."
Johnson said he has tried to learn not just from Stoutland but from the other offensive linemen.
"Pretty much I try to emulate things Jason Peters does, Todd [Herremans]; they're pretty intelligent," he said.
Johnson heard all the "raw" talk, and was acutely aware that he lacked an extensive offensive-line background.
"You're going into a new environment, there's going to be new tests, but once you get into the fire, it's not as bad as what it seems," he said.
Tra on board
Tra Thomas, who went to three Pro Bowls as an Eagles left tackle, is joining the coaching staff as an assistant to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, Thomas confirmed last night.
Thomas, 38, drafted 11th overall by the Birds in 1998, has been working as a coaching intern in training camp. "That definitely was one of my goals," said Thomas, an Eagle for 11 of his 12 NFL seasons. "I think they've seen the dedication, how I respond with the guys. I have lessons to impart from 12 years of victories and defeats."
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis touted corner Bradley Fletcher as a solid, reliable pro. "Every day he shows up to work, it's not flashy," Davis said. Asked about that assessment, Fletcher, signed as a free agent from the Rams, said: "I'm always going to compete, I'm always going to tackle for you, and I'm always going to fly to the ball" . . . Reporters finally were allowed into the NovaCare locker room for the first time in the Chip Kelly era this week. It was kind of disappointing; we expected flying robots and all manner of futuristic touches, but the only thing that seemed to have changed was the locker assignments. "We put all that stuff away when y'all come in here," Evan Mathis explained.