Oftentimes the first word used to describe seeing Lane Johnson up close is simply “how” — as in, “How can an athlete so large, strong, quick, and agile do anything more dominant than protect quarterbacks and destroy D lines?”
But don’t call the 6’7” 310-pound Philadelphia Eagles right tackle’s blend of powerlifter strength, inside linebacker speed, as well as NBA agility simply physical gifts. Instead, Johnson’s surprising road from high school and junior college quarterback to becoming one of the NFL’s most feared offensive linemen was more like an accidental evolution.
“I never thought I’d be playing offensive tackle in the NFL,” Johnson still admits.
But here he is, a first-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler who’s gone on to leave an indelible legacy upon the City of Brotherly Love. In 2017, not only did Johnson help anchor the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl title, he was equally instrumental in ensuring the Philly faithful celebrated in style, with a round of beers “on the house,” a feat not soon to be forgotten by the fans of this football-frenzied city.
Now, as one of the team’s veteran leaders, Johnson 31, is tasked with not only returning to full strength following season-ending ankle surgery, but helping rebuild the strength and cohesiveness of an offensive line tasked with keeping new starting quarterback Jalen Hurts healthy and productive as they look to reverse course on 2020’s disappointing 4-11-1 season.
Enter Johnson and his “Bro Barn,” a former horse stall located behind his New Jersey residence 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 contains all the necessary football-specific equipment — from power racks to Prowler sleds — for he and his teammates to push, pull, and bond during the offseason. All that’s required to enter is plenty of thick muscle — and sometimes thick skin — for this group of thick necks.
“A lot of teammates live within close proximity,” Johnson says. “A lot of jokes happen in here, and most of them are not safe for work. But when it’s time to train, it’s all business in here.”
THE BEAST BEHIND THE BRO BARN
If his measurements alone aren’t sufficient evidence, then seeing Johnson’s duffel-bag-size 16s lined up alongside his teammate’s cleats adds another layer to his gargantuan frame.
Then there are his hands. Measured at 10 1/8 inches at the 2013 NFL combine (in comparison, NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal’s hands were reportedly measured at 10¼ inches), Johnson blew up the internet a few years back when a normal-size Bud Light can looked freakishly microscopic in his monstrous mitts.
About those adult beverages, which helped add to Johnson’s iconic Philly status. It all went down during an off-the-cuff moment during a 2017 interview. “Someone asked me what I would do if we won the Super Bowl,” he says. “I was like, I don’t know, buy beer for everyone. Then we won, and everyone asked if I was gonna do it. Turned out Bud Light was giving out beers to [a bunch of] bars in the [Philadelphia] neighborhood that night. So people were happy about that.”
And it’s not just his size that remains legendary. To this day, his 4.72 40 time at the Combine is the second-fastest time ever among offensive linemen, which on paper makes Johnson the perfect pass-protecting specimen. But more than a decade ago while at Texas’ Groveton Jr-Sr High School, a tiny 1A school with a graduating class, he says, of about 32, Johnson was the skill player lining up behind center. Back then, in what would become a strange twist of events, Johnson, who also starred in basketball and ran the 400 meters and threw shot put, often looked down at the lazy linemen, never thinking he’d become one.
“I used to hate watching them practice — it was like, they would be sitting there doing nothing,” Johnson recalls. “They don’t run, they’re just hitting the sled, sitting around drinking water. I despised them. When I switched [to D-line] in college, I kind of understood. I became part of their world then.”
Johnson spent a year at Kilgore Junior College as a quarterback before switching to tight end. He then went on to the University of Oklahoma, where once again he was switched, this time to defensive end. Weighing around 280 at the time, Johnson credits Mark Mangino, the former Kansas head coach who at the time was a volunteer adviser to then-Coach Bob Stoops, with noticing his offensive potential.
“It was like a Bobby Boucher, Waterboy moment,” Johnson recalls. “The coaches were like, ‘Show us what you got,’ during a drill, and I leveled the guy. They were like, ‘This boy can play!’ It was maybe not at that level [of excitement], but it was similar.”
Despite his positional changes, the training regimen among the lineman in college, Johnson says, remained similar. “When you’re in the trenches, it’s all about strength from the ground up. Lots of squats, lots of power cleans. At Oklahoma, they were really big on medicine balls. We would start practice, interlocking our legs then do 50 situps with 20-pound med balls. One year they upped it to 100. It was a learning experience.”
A REAL BARN BURNER
Upon entering Johnson’s bro barn, you’ll notice that not a stone was left unturned in creating this muscle masterpiece, including the décor. Along the walls, Johnson’s hung up a host of jersey memorabilia swapped throughout the seasons with opponents — including All-Pro defensive ends J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan — mixed with every type of rubber resistance bands, steel maces, and other weightroom attachments filling the outskirts of his gym interior.
But what immediately grabs your attention is the giant, wall-size mural of some of his teammates who have come to work out at the gym. Alongside Johnson, the athletic artwork features teammates Hurts, Matt Pryor, Nate Herbig, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, along with other players including Packers lineman Jon Runyan, Cesar Ruiz, and Justin Pugh who’ve stopped by for a sweat session.
“That’s a great atmosphere, and I like training with the younger guys,” Johnson says. “They motivate me, plus, it’s really a lot better than working out solo.”
The football-functional facility, designed by his trainer, Gabe Rangel along with Elite FTS CEO Dave Tate. A warmup room is fully stocked with a multitude of foam rollers and Theraguns. Outside the facility is equipped with plenty of strongman utensils, including a yoke rack for carries and a Prowler for sled pushes and pulls.
In the gym, Johnson installed a power rack along with picking up seems like every type of bar and attachment on the market — from standard straight bars to safety squat bars to the versatile Kadillac bar designed by powerlifting legend Kris Duffin, a bar Johnson he uses regularly for moves such as skull crushers (“They don’t call [Duffin] the mad scientist for nothing,” he says.)
There’s a reverse hyperextension machine inspired by Westside Barbell founder Louie Simmons, which is a reason why, Johnson says he’s never developed any back issues. Perhaps his favorite piece, however, may be his belt squat machine, a legday must brought on while training several years ago with top powerlifter Donnie Thompson. He uses it as a great alternative to offset the wear and tear the season takes “It’s a great way to get a lower-body lift in,” he says. “What I like about it is that it tractions your back, so it kind of decompresses your lower back, and you can still get that work in on your legs.”
The mood is normally serious, Johnson says, when workouts starts at around 9:30 a.m. But among these gargantuans, in between sets of squats or conditioning drills along the incline turf Johnson built outside to push a full-size blocking sled, there’s always time for some good-natured jabs lobbed at one another. Sometimes the chat even extends to their mutual disdain for NFL grading sites. “There’s other factors some players get better numbers than others,” he says. “But it is what it is. You got to swallow your pride.” Sometimes, the talk will even turn to their fashion tastes or distates, in which you’ll quickly get the impression that gameday dressup among these guys is not a strength. “I have two or three suits, and I don’t like wearing them,” Johnson says, laughing. “I’ll go to the games in khakis and a polo, looking like an assistant coach. Kelce, though, he looks more like a carpenter.”
TRAINING FOR THE FOURTH QUARTER
Unlike his Sooner days, when the focus was primarily on heavy power movements such as squats and cleans, Johnson’s workouts have evolved 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,’” Johnson says. “You finish practice, and whatever is hurting afterward, don’t just go and sit on the couch and not do nothing. So I’ll start rolling out my feet every day, before practice, and then stretching my hip flexors.”
For the first time staying healthy takes on a different meaning after Johnson missed the end of the 2020 following surgery last December surgery to repair his right ankle that became progressively worse after being rolled on in a 2019 game against the New York Giants. One additional piece of equipment Johnson purchased recently was a tibialis bar — a piece utilized by mobility coach Ben Patrick, aka Kneesovertoesguy — to help rebuild the strength in his ankles since the surgery.
“I’m pretty weak at these, but I just started doing them,” Johnson says. “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 it comes to time, especially at Johnson’s position, being a split-second late can mean the difference between a big play or a crushing sack. Johnson says it requires developing the stamina to be able to get off the snap quicker than his opponent every single play, then moving forward, backward, laterally on either your heels or toes. So in addition to the track-style sprints out of the starting blocks Rangel incorporates into their 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 for what I do it really doesn’t apply for strength,” Johnson says. “Everything we do is about having flexible ankles. If you have stiff feet and a stiff back, you’re not going to move very well. So we work a lot on that and the core, and so I started incorporating the kettlebells a lot more.”
For Johnson, who up until May was the highest-paid right tackle in the NFL, the change in training priorities is going to be key for not only staying on the field for this season but also for another run at an NFL title four seasons after the Eagles’ 41-33 Super Bowl LI win over the New England Patriots.
He looks at teammate Kelce, the All-Pro center who’ll turn 34 in November as well as superstars like Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals future Hall of Fame wide receiver who’ve stayed healthy for the longevity of their careers, for cues to staying on the field.
“Guys who have any type of longevity, the best phrase to use is, ‘Success leaves clues,’” Johnson says. “You look up and see what they’re doing, how they train, then adapt what is useful, leave out what’s not, and form your own kind of method.”
Videography by Denis Kennedy: DK_Create