Bob Stoops recounts Lane Johnson's rise

NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops has had a dozen players get picked in the first round of the NFL draft during his tenure in Norman.

No one, though, quite like Lane Johnson.

The Oklahoma left tackle could go as high as fourth overall to the Philadelphia Eagles or fifth to the Detroit Lions in this week's draft. No mock draft has him going lower than No. 11.

“The more he plays it and the more he matures,” Stoops said, “he’s just going to get better and better.”

A little over two years ago, Johnson wasn't even playing offensive line. Four years ago, in fact, he was still a junior-college quarterback, whom the Sooners recruited out Kilgore, Texas, to play, well, they weren’t quite sure.

“When we recruited him and signed him, we did so on just what a big athlete he was,” Stoops said. “Not having an idea where he’d end up growing.”

Johnson started out as a tight end. The following year, he was moved to defensive end. Neither position seemed to fit.

But in the spring of 2011, starting right tackle Jarvis Jones suffered a torn patella tendon that would sideline him for months. That prompted the Sooners to test Johnson out at offensive tackle.

“We were always trying to find the best spot for Lane, and we knew even before then that [tackle] was a possibility,” Stoops said. “We were always looking because we appreciated how hard he worked -- like, we’ve got to get him on the field.

“He was starving himself at 270 to play D-end. And I asked (strength coach Jerry Schmidt) how long it’d take him to get to 300 pounds, and he said, ‘About a week and a cheeseburger.’ And he was right, it didn’t take him long.”

Johnson didn’t start the Sooners’ first game at right tackle. But the player who did, Daryl Williams, sprained his ankle in the opener, which forced Johnson into the lineup for the Sooners' second game at fifth-ranked Florida State. Oklahoma won in Tallahassee, and Johnson never relinquished the job. In 2012, he swung over to left tackle, where his draft stock began to soar.

“Fortunately we found the right spot for him here the last couple of years,” Stoops said. “Sometimes with these big long guys who are really athletic, you don’t know when they’re going to stop growing.

“Everybody here is excited for Lane, and he’s worked hard with his body, too, to put himself in this position.”