PHILADELPHIA - Lane Johnson has his own work to do and the veteran offensive lineman has gotten in the best shape of his career, intent to prove there is still plenty of gas left in the tank after a persistent ankle injury resulted in two surgeries and limited the former All-Pro to seven games in 2020.
Johnson is busy serving two masters - his own comeback and an attempt to pay his success forward to the next generation of Eagles' offensive linemen like Nate Herbig and Jack Driscoll.
Through the first eight days of Eagles training camp, starting left guard Isaac Seumalo has been a spectator while rehabbing from a hamstring injury. In his place has been Herbig, a call back from the 2020 season when the Stanford product was forced into action due to Philadelphia's historic attrition on the offensive line.
The results were generally positive with Herbig piling up 894 offensive reps and grading out more than respectfully with ProFootballFocus.com ranking the former undrafted free agent as the 13th best guard in the NFL in 2020.
Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland isn't the type to hand out bouquets of roses, though. Instead, the stern taskmaster focuses on what his students can do better, a style that had developed All-Pro players like Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Johnson.
One of the teaching points for Herbig was conditioning and Johnson pitched in from his somewhat famous "Bro Barn" in South Jersey.
“We ran the hell out of him,” Johnson said of Herbig. “We had a hard offseason with him. He’s been great, he’s got a great attitude. I think when he stepped in last year he performed very well. He’s just trying to keep progressing and going on. As far as his body, he’s taking it a lot more serious than he used to."
That seriousness had Herbig dropping down from 355 to about 325, according to Johnson.
Herbig pegged the weight loss at about 20 pounds but the real point is that he is a better-conditioned athlete that should have plenty of gas left in the tank if forced to play full games again.
“He pushed me hard,” Herbig said of Johnson. “I wanted to do it, too, for myself and for the team to put myself in a better position. I wanted to be quicker, in better shape, lighter and leaner."
Johnson has his own Padawan so to speak at right tackle, second-year pro Jack Driscoll.
Driscoll played 300 snaps as a rookie fourth-round pick out of Auburn last season, often in the most difficult of circumstances when Johnson was in-and-out of the lineup with the balky ankle.
Driscoll showed a quick affinity for pass blocking but struggled a bit when trying to move the pile, hardly a strange occurrence with O-Linemen trying to make the transition from college to the pros.
A cerebral young player, Driscoll has gotten his own first-team reps at camp at right tackle when 31-year-old Johnson is given a maintenance day at the behest of the team's medical and training staffs, something that's happened twice in the first eight days of work.
A more normal setting has already helped Driscoll with 2020's strict COVID-19 protocols left in the rear-view mirror, at least for now.
“It’s been so nice,” Driscoll said. “Even just eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner with your teammates. Last year, we were sitting in those tents outside with masks on spaced out, not really able to talk. It’s kind of tough when you’re introduced to a new group of people and you really can’t socialize that much and all your meetings are on Zoom."
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The one downside of the personal contact?
Johnson's quick wit and politically incorrect comedy act in the O-Line room.
“We just give each other hell,” Johnson joked. “We’re mean to each other.”
“What don’t they make fun of me for?" the second-year man joked. "No beard, just a lot of stuff."
“It’s phenomenal,” Herbig added of the chemistry of the offensive line. “... We all make fun of each other, but that’s just how our O-line room is. It’s all in good spirits. Lane’s a jokester. I love it.”
The goal of Johnson's tough love is simple.
“We’re pretty mean to each other," he said, "but we keep it light-hearted, keep them laughing, and when it’s time to go to work and handle business."
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.