By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
GRAPEVINE, Texas – Oklahoma nestled into its headquarters in Grapevine, Texas, on Saturday. The next six days are about mixing fun with preparation for its AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic matchup with Texas A&M.
Left tackle Lane Johnson has made no bones about his intentions. It is a business trip.
“It’s a way for me to make money because I get to showcase my skills against top talent. I think I’ve done that fairly well through the year, but I’m fired up about this opportunity,” he said.
There isn’t a player on OU’s roster who did more to elevate his draft stock over the last four months. The former junior college quarterback, tight end and defensive end has grown into one of the best offensive linemen in the Big 12 with a reputation for big games against elite defensive ends.
He held Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat to two tackles and zero quarterback pressures in the Sooners’ rout of the Longhorns. OU lost to Notre Dame on Oct. 27, but Fighting Irish All-American defensive end Stephon Tuitt had one tackle in that game. TCU’s right end Devonte Field’s was the AP defensive player of the year this season. He was a non-factor when OU topped the Horned Frogs 24-17 on Dec. 1.
“You take your most athletic lineman and put him on the conference sack leader and you tell him he’s yours,” OU center Gabe Ikard said. “Lane was up to the challenge and didn’t give him anything.”
It will be a similar scenario when the Sooners face the Aggies. Johnson will be isolated on Texas A&M right end Damontre Moore most of the night. Moore was a consensus All-American this year after posting 12 1/2 sacks. The junior is expected to be a first-round pick if he makes himself eligible for the NFL draft.
No ones knows that better than Johnson.
“I saw where he (Moore) is a first-round prospect,” Johnson said. “Any time you get to go up against somebody that’s really good, you know you have an opportunity.”
Friday’s game coupled with the next four months of workouts could very well be the time when Johnson gets to showcase what type of player he’s become.
Just two years ago, Johnson was a little-used defensive end that was struggling to get anywhere near the field. The only reason OU didn’t give up on him was the remarkable athletic ability he possesses. Teammates and OU’s coaches marvel at Johnson’s speed and agility on a daily basis.
“You have no idea,” Ikard said. “He’s a physical freak when it comes to athleticism at that size.”
OU coach Bob Stoops gave a preview of what NFL scouts will see in February at the Senior Bowl and the NFL combine.
“At 305, 310 pounds, he’ll run a 4.7. He can go,” Stoops said. “He’s going to test well. He’s got a lot of upside, definitely, he’s only going to keep getting better.”
That’s the remarkable part of Johnson’s career. OU has had many All-American offensive linemen. Most of them were playing the spot since grade school. Years of drills to maximize footwork and blocking angles came into play. Johnson has been playing the spot for two seasons. A strong argument can be that he finished his college doing it as well as any offensive lineman in college football. He’s a gem that can still be polished.
“It took us a little while to find the best spot for him but it’s really, I believe, paid off for him and it’s been great the last two years,” Stoops said. “Most indications are he has a chance to be in the first couple of rounds. Hopefully, that’ll be the case. He’s worked hard for it.”
And he’s still working. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and OU quarterback Landry Jones will get most of the attention before and during the game.
Johnson’s last college game will be a showcase night for what he’s become and can potentially be. There’s going to be a lot of NFL eyes on him.
“I just want to put it all together and be 100 percent with my technique and just showcase what I’m all about,” Johnson said. “I want to put my best foot forward and show people that I’m the real deal, too.”