Often times the first word used to see Lane Johnson up close and personal is simply "how" - as in "How can an athlete so big, strong, fast and agile do something more dominant than protecting quarterbacks and D Destroy lines? "
But don't call the mix of powerlifter strength, inner linebacker speed, and NBA agility just physical gifts. Instead, Johnson's surprising path from high school and junior college quarterback to one of the NFL's most feared offensive linemen was more of a fortuitous development.
"I never thought I'd play offensive tackle in the NFL," Johnson still admits.
But here he is, a first team all-pro and three-time pro bowler who left an indelible legacy to the city of brotherly love. In 2017, Johnson not only helped anchor the Eagles to their very first Super Bowl title, but was instrumental in celebrating Philly believers in style with a round of beer "on the house", an achievement which will not be soon forgotten by the fans of this football-loving city.
As one of the team's veterans, Johnson 31's task is not only to return to full strength after an ankle surgery at the end of the season, but also to help rebuild the strength and cohesion of an offensive line tasked with the new quarterback Keeping Jalen Hurts healthy and productive as they try to reverse course in the disappointing 4-11-1 season of 2020.
Step inside Johnson and his Bro Barn, a former horse stable located behind his New Jersey residence that has been converted into an iron pumping paradise. Influenced by a combination of some of weightlifting's all-time heavy-hitters and science-based social media superstars, Johnson's home gym has all of the football-specific equipment - from power racks to Prowler sleds - for him and his teammates for pushing, pulling and tying during the off-season. All it takes to step on is lots of thick muscle - and sometimes thick skin - for that group of thick necks.
“A lot of teammates live in close proximity,” says Johnson. “A lot of jokes are made in here, and most of them aren't safe for work. But when it's time to train, everything is business here. "
THE BEAST BEHIND THE BRO BARN
Courtesy Denis Kennedy
When his dimensions alone aren't enough to see Johnson's 16s duffel bag alongside his teammate's cleats, add another layer to his gigantic frame.
Then there are his hands. Measured at 10 1/8 inches on the 2013 NFL Combine (by comparison, NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O & # 39; Neal's hands were reportedly measured at 10¼ inches), Johnson blew up the internet a few years ago, than a full-size Bud Light can this looked incredibly microscopic in its monstrous mittens.
About these adult drinks that contributed to Johnson's iconic status in Philly. It all went down during a spontaneous moment during a 2017 interview. "Somebody asked me what I would do if we won the Super Bowl," he says. “I figured I don't know, buy beer for everyone. Then we won and everyone asked if I would do it. It turned out that Bud Light was handing out beer to (a few) bars in the neighborhood (Philadelphia) that evening. The people were happy about it. "
And it's not just its size that is legendary. To date, his 4.72 40 time on the Combine is the second fastest time ever among the Offensive Linemen, which makes Johnson the perfect passport protection specimen on paper. But more than a decade ago while he was at Groveton Jr-Sr High School in Texas, a tiny 1A school with a senior year of about 32, Johnson was the skill player who lined up behind the center. Back then, in a strange turn of events, Johnson, who also played basketball and ran the 400 yards and threw the shot put, often looked down on the lazy linemen and never thought he was going to become one.
“I used to hate watching them practice - it was like they were sitting there doing nothing,” recalls Johnson. “They don't run, they just hit the sled and sit around drinking water. I despised them. When I moved to college (to D line) I kind of got it. I then became part of their world. "
Johnson spent a year at Kilgore Junior College as a quarterback before moving to the tight end. He then went to the University of Oklahoma, where he was switched again, this time to the defensive end. Weighing about 280 at the time, Johnson credits Mark Mangino, the former Kansas head coach who at the time was a volunteer advisor to then coach Bob Stoops, his offensive potential.
“It was like a Bobby Boucher, waterboy moment,” Johnson recalls. “The trainers said 'show us what you got' during one exercise and I leveled the guy. They said, 'This boy can play!' It might not be that level (of excitement), but it was similar. "
Despite his position changes, the training regime among the linemans in college remained similar, Johnson says. “When you're in the trenches, it's all about strength from the ground up. Lots of squats, lots of power cleans. In Oklahoma, they were really big on medicine balls. We started exercising, crossing our legs, then doing 50 situps with 20 pound medicine balls. In a year they raised it to 100. It was a learning experience. "
A REAL BARN BURNER
Courtesy Denis Kennedy
Upon entering Johnson's Bro Barn, you will find that no stone was left unturned in the creation of this muscular masterpiece, including the decoration. On the walls, Johnson hung a variety of jersey memorabilia that were traded with opponents throughout the season - including All-Pro-Defensive Ends J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan - mixed in with every kind of rubber resistance band, steel mace, and other weight room accessories that fill the outskirts of his gym.
However, what immediately catches your attention is the giant mural of some of his teammates who have come to the gym for a workout. In addition to Johnson, the athletic artwork shows teammates Hurts, Matt Pryor, Nate Herbig, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo and other players including Jon Runyan, Cesar Ruiz and Justin Pugh, Lineman of the Packers, who stopped by for a sweat session.
“It's a great atmosphere and I like to train with the younger ones,” says Johnson. "They motivate me and it is really much better than training alone."
The football functional facility designed by trainer Gabe Rangel together with Elite FTS CEO Dave Tate. A warm up room is fully equipped with a variety of foam rollers and theraguns. Outside, the facility is equipped with many Strongman utensils, including a yoke frame for carrying and a prowler for pushing and pulling sleds.
In the gym, Johnson installed a power rack along with the pick-up that looks like every type of bar and attachment on the market - from standard straight bars to safety squat bars to the versatile Kadillac bar, the was designed by powerlifting legend Kris Duffin, a bar that Johnson regularly uses for acts like skull crusher ("They don't call (Duffin) the mad scientist for nothing," he says.)
There's a reverse hyperextension machine that was inspired by Louie Simmons, the founder of Westside Barbell, which is one reason Johnson says he never developed back problems. Perhaps his favorite piece, however, is his belt squat, which was brought on a legday a few years ago while training with top powerlifter Donnie Thompson. He uses it as a great alternative to make up for the wear and tear of the season. “It's a great way to do a lower body lift,” he says. "What I like about it is that it tightens your back so it decompresses your lower back and you can still get this work on your feet."
The mood is usually grave, says Johnson, when training starts around 9:30 a.m. But among these giants, between squats or conditioning exercises on the sloping lawn that Johnson built outside to push a large block sled, there is always time because a few good-natured blows collided. Sometimes the chat even extends to their mutual disdain for NFL review sites. "There are other factors that some players get better numbers than others," he says. "But it is so. You have to swallow your pride. ”Sometimes it's even about their taste in fashion or their disstates, where you quickly get the impression that dress-up on matchday is not a strength for these guys. “I have two or three suits and I don't like wearing them,” says Johnson with a laugh. “I go to the games in khaki and polo and look like an assistant coach. Kelce looks more like a carpenter. "
TRAINING FOR THE FOURTH QUARTER
Unlike his earlier days when the focus was mostly on heavy strength movements like squats and cleans, Johnson's workouts are designed for long-term survival after the wear and tear of an NFL career. "Former Bengals all-pro tackle Willie Anderson once said, 'You're always in therapy mode,'" says Johnson. “You stop training and whatever hurts afterwards, don't just sit on the couch and do nothing. So every day before I work out, I'll start rolling my feet out and then stretching my hip flexors. "
For the first time, staying healthy has another meaning after Johnson missed the end of 2020 after surgery last December to repair his right ankle, which was curled up after rolling up in a 2019 game against the New York Giants increasingly deteriorated. An additional piece of equipment Johnson recently purchased was a shin bar - a piece used by mobility trainer Ben Patrick, aka Kneesovertoesguy - to help rebuild strength in his ankles since surgery.
"I'm pretty weak at it, but I've just started," says Johnson. "What I noticed is that I feel a lot better in my knees, I've awakened muscles that I haven't used in a long time."
When time comes, especially in Johnson's position, being a fraction of a second late can mean the difference between a big game or a devastating sack. Johnson says it takes stamina to get out of the snap faster than your opponent on any single game, and then move forward, backward, sideways on either your heels or toes. In addition to the track-style sprints from the starting blocks that Rangel includes in his workouts, Johnson says a lot of his workouts these days target the hamstrings and lower back.
"It's really cool to have a big bench press, but strength really doesn't count for what I do," says Johnson. “Everything we do is about flexible ankles. If you have stiff feet and a stiff back, you won't be moving very well. So we're working a lot on it and on the core, and that's how I started to integrate the kettlebells a lot more. "
For Johnson, who was the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL until May, changing training priorities will be key not only to staying on the field this season, but also to battle for an NFL title again four seasons later 41-33 Super Bowl LI victory for the Eagles against the New England Patriots.
He looks to his teammate Kelce, the all-pro center, which will turn 34 in vember, as well as superstars like Larry Fitzgerald, the future Cardinals Hall of Fame wide-receiver who has stayed healthy for the longevity of his career, to stay in the field.
"Guys who have some kind of longevity, the best phrase to use is, 'Success makes a mark,'" says Johnson. "You look up and see what they are doing, how they exercise, then adjust what is useful, skip what, and develop your own method."
Videography by Denis Kennedy: DK_Create