Eagles notice big change in Lane Johnson

USA Today Images

Eagles notice big change in Lane Johnson

Fresh off a pretty dominating performance against Von Miller, it's pretty safe to say Lane Johnson is playing at an extremely high level, a Pro Bowl level even. 

The Eagles' right tackle has seemingly used his 10-game PED suspension from last year as motivation. He's on a mission to prove himself in the NFL and it's working. 

That's why when offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was asked if this is the best football of Johnson's career, the veteran O-line coach gave a look of bewilderment. 

"Seriously?" Stoutland said, opening his eyes as wide as they go while dipping his head slightly forward. "He's off the chart right now.

"I think he just made his mind up that he wants to be a dominating player and whatever it takes from his standpoint, meetings, meeting room. From the time he walks in until the time he leaves here, it's all business for Lane. Lane's a worker, man."

After Jason Peters went down for the season, it might have made sense to flip Johnson from the right to left side and place Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle. But the Eagles decided to leave Johnson at his post for a few reasons. One of them is that Johnson is playing extremely well at right tackle. Another is that they didn't want to disrupt two spots. 

And another is that many premier pass-rushers line up on the right tackle. Demarcus Lawrence and Khalil Mack are still yet to come. As far as Miller, Stoutland said Johnson was "excellent" against the NFL's leader in sacks since 2011. He saw that one-handed toss Johnson pulled on Miller and recognized it as a technique they teach; Johnson executed it "perfectly." 

"He's always had that in him but I think it's at a different level right now," Stoutland said. "He's always had that in him."

Right guard
During his session with reporters Tuesday, Stoutland was answering a question when he got a little annoyed. He pointed out that no one had asked him about Brandon Brooks yet. Because while Johnson is playing at a Pro Bowl level, the guy lining up to his left is, too. 

Stoutland praised Brooks' consistency and his physicality. At 330 pounds, Brooks is the heaviest player on the roster. 

But he's pretty athletic for his size. 

"Extremely athletic. Sneaky athletic," Stoutland said. "You watch him when we screw around a little bit with the football. We'll throw the football around. He's just a very athletic guy for a big man."

A few times Sunday against Denver, it was Brooks who was downfield blocking in the second level. 

What's that like to see?  

"Pretty awesome," Stoutland said. "And then he can stand at the line of scrimmage in a phone booth and knock your face off, too." 

Left tackle 
The flip side of Johnson's staying at right tackle was that Vaitai simply replaced Peters at left tackle. That's no easy task. 

Big V has a pretty unassuming personality. He's so soft-spoken it's actually hard to imagine him having enough fire to be able to take on defensive linemen Sundays. But Stoutland knows how to get that out of him. 

"I know the secret. I know the button," he said. "Trust me. Ask him that. I push him."

When asked where Vaitai has improved the most, Stoutland answered by saying "the use of his hands." He said Vaitai has been able to use his hands violently without losing his balance. 

"He makes progress on a daily basis," Stoutland said. "Very happy with his progression. I like him as a left tackle. He's been a natural left tackle."

For all the criticism Jason Kelce has gotten from fans over the last few years, the veteran center is playing at a really high level in 2017. 

Stoutland was willing to take some of the blame for Kelce's dip in play last season. 

"To be fair to Kelce, I asked him last year to do a whole bunch," Stoutland said. "I think I asked him to do a little bit too much and I think that kind of diluted a little bit of his ability and his production level, to be honest with you. That's on me. This year, we kind of tightened it up a little bit and put him in better positions to be productive and successful. But I have always had a tremendous regard for Jason Kelce and his ability to play center in this league."

Stoutland also praised Kelce's discipline. He said Kelce has always been a technician but is even more consistent with that this season. 

Left guard
Stefen Wisniewski was the third guy to get a crack at the left guard spot this season, but it doesn't look like he's going to give it up anytime soon. When Isaac Seumalo was struggling, the Eagles used a combination of Chance Warmack and Wiz until it was clear Wisniewski was just playing better. 

That's why he earned the job. 

"Just proved it every day. Production. Bottom line," Stoutland said. "The production level of the player. Everybody had their opportunity. And I told them all that. I told them nobody here is my cousin or anything. It's the production of the player and at the end of the day, that's the guy that was most productive."

Stoutland said he kept the rotation at left guard going until he was "100 percent sure" Wisniewski was the guy. That meant benching his longtime pupil dating back to Alabama. 

"Chance did nothing wrong," Stoutland said. "Chance was actually playing very good. At the end of the day, I just didn't feel like we could keep going on the way we were going."

Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

USA Today/AP Images

Roob's 10 late-March Eagles observations

Some random late-March thoughts on Michael Bennett, Cris Carter, Mike Wallace, Billy Brown and (of course) Nick Foles in this weekend’s 10 Random Eagles Observations!

1. I have no idea what Michael Bennett did or didn’t do on Super Bowl Sunday at NRG Stadium last February, but I do know this is a precarious situation for the Eagles. Team chemistry was the Eagles’ biggest strength last year, and that’s not easy to duplicate when the roster changes. What Bennett is accused of is truly terrible. But it’s a weird story. How is there no video of an incident that occurred at a Super Bowl? Aren’t there cameras everywhere? And why didn’t the cop who allegedly witnessed the incident arrest Bennett once he was assured the alleged victim was OK? Bennett didn’t go anywhere. The 14-month gap between incident and charges is odd. And how could the Eagles not know about the investigation? The bigger question is exactly what kind of person are the Eagles getting in Bennett, and is he someone they want in the locker room for the next year. Maybe the answer is yes. Doug Pederson, Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas seem to have a pretty good feel for this stuff. But this is definitely a major distraction and just about the last thing the Eagles need to deal with right now.

2. If the Eagles don’t sign a veteran tight end, keep an eye on Billy Brown, who had an impressive training camp last summer and spent the season on the practice squad. He’s 6-foot-4, 260 pounds with great hands. Yeah, he was an undrafted rookie. But remember, that’s how Trey Burton started out.

3. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you Mike Wallace isn’t a significant upgrade over Torrey Smith. Wallace last year had 16 more catches (52 to 36), 318 more yards (748 to 430), twice as many TDs (4 to 2) and a much higher yards-per-catch average (14.4 to 11.9). Over the last two years, the difference is more dramatic (124 for 1,765 to 56 for 697) with inferior QBs. And Wallace is cheaper. With Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Wallace, the Eagles are loaded at wideout.

4. I heard Cris Carter ripping Nick Foles the other day, saying he’s not an NFL-caliber starter and only had a handful of good games last year. He also only played a handful of games. And one of them was the Super Bowl, if I remember correctly? Foles may never get credit outside Philly for what he accomplished last year, but at this point, it doesn't matter. The Lombardi Trophy lives at the NovaCare Complex now.

5. Speaking of Foles, in the 2017 postseason on third down, he was 26 for 32 for 398 yards and four TDs and a 158.1 passer rating.

6. Read that again. Foles threw six incomplete passes on third down during the entire 2017 postseason.

7. The Eagles converted 71 and 62 percent of their third downs in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, respectively. They had only converted 62 percent of their third downs in consecutive games twice previously since 1991.

8. The conversations about whether the Eagles are better or worse than last year are silly, considering we're six months from opening day. The Eagles last year added Chris Long, Patrick Robinson, Tim Jernigan, LeGarrette Blount, Corey Graham and Ronald Darby later in the offseason than it is now. And Jay Ajayi during the season. The roster is a long way from being a finished product.

9. I’ve got Derek Barnett with 12 sacks next year. Interesting that from Week 6 on, Barnett had only one fewer sack than Brandon Graham (6 1/2 to 5 1/2). You could just see him getting better and better each week. Can’t wait to see the 2018 version of Derek Barnett.

10. And finally, we need to keep throwing out Carson Wentz stats so nobody forgets just how freaking talented he is: Wentz had 10 games last year with two or more touchdowns and one or fewer interceptions. Only four quarterbacks in NFL history have ever had more through 13 games: Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Romo. Pretty good company. Except for Romo.

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

Thank Carson Wentz (and 1 other thing) for landing Mike Wallace

During the 2016 season, Mike Wallace thought his Baltimore Ravens were going to steamroll the Eagles, who had a first-year head coach and first-year quarterback. 

He was wrong. 

Sure, the Ravens were able to sneak away with a 27-26 win back on Dec. 18, 2016, but Wallace watched up close as the gutsy Carson Wentz had the Eagles one two-point conversion at the end of the game away from walking out of Baltimore with a win. 

A year and a half later, when Wallace was testing free agency, the veteran receiver thought back to that game and thought to himself, “I want to play with that guy.” 

So how responsible is Wentz for Wallace’s landing in Philly? 

“Ninety-nine percent. Ninety-nine,” Wallace said at his introductory press conference Friday afternoon after signing a one-year contract. “The other percent was the rest of the team. I’m impressed by the way he plays football, the way he moves in the pocket, the way he throws the football and his competitiveness. You can see it.”

Wallace, 31, continued to watch Wentz during the 2017 season, when the second-year quarterback was seemingly on his way to an MVP award before a serious knee injury landed him on injured reserve.  

Having been through changing teams before, Wallace said the most difficult part for him is learning the new quarterback. He hopes this process won’t take exceedingly long, but he and Wentz might be at a disadvantage. Wentz is still recovering from a torn ACL and LCL and might not be ready until the season opener, if that. 

“You can just work on that watching film and things like that, but until he gets out there, there’s no real way to simulate it,” Wallace said. “I think he’s a great young quarterback who’s fired up. Whatever extra reps we need to try to get up to speed, I’m all for it.”

Wentz is, of course, a part of the big reason Wallace decided to join the Eagles. Wallace has played nine seasons in the NFL with four different teams. He’s made money, but he hasn’t been able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. That’s what he wants. 

On Friday, Wallace said he turned down more money to join the Eagles. 

“I had options but I just wanted the best chance,” Wallace said. “I feel like this is my best opportunity to make a run. This is my 10th year. Can’t play this game forever. You don’t want to come out feeling empty. I want to get a ring.”

Wallace had been a free agent twice before this offseason and he admitted, that when he was younger, free agency was about money. He signed a five-year, $60 million deal in 2013 to join the Dolphins. 

But now, Wallace said, his family is secure. He’s made a lot of money in the NFL to make sure those close to him are well off. Now, he’s allowing himself to make a decision that benefits him. 

“I didn’t try to come into this game to leave empty-handed,” he said. “I had to secure the bag and I did that. Now it’s time to secure a ring.”