Lane Johnson: Chip Kelly’s Secret Weapon in Space?

Johnson Featured Image

Chip Kelly doesn’t just want his skill players to have speed. He places a high premium on athletic offensive linemen who can execute their blocks both at the line of scrimmage and in space. It is easy to see how Lane Johnson‘s rare athletic ability convinced Kelly to select the Oklahoma offensive tackle with the fourth overall pick last year. In his rookie season, Johnson even lined up split wide or in the slot to provide his coach with mismatches in space.

The most famous of these plays was unveiled in the season opener against the Washington Redskins. Johnson and left tackle Jason Peters are both split wide in the Emory and Henry formation (below), which is just a variation of the Double Stack formation. Peters is athletically gifted in his own right with a 40-time of 4.93 seconds, compared to Johnson’s 4.71 seconds.

Kelly unveils the Emory and Henry formation.

From Video

Kelly unveils the Emory and Henry formation.

This formation puts Johnson against cornerback Josh Wilson, while inside linebacker Perry Riley slides over to face Peters.

Vick makes a post-snap read.

From Video

Johnson mirrors a defensive back to open up a running lane if Michael Vick passes the ball.

This play is a packaged run-pass option. Quarterback Michael Vick makes a pre-snap read to see if he will throw a screen pass to either Riley Cooper or DeSean Jackson. The Redskins have six men in coverage, so they only have five in the box. This narrows Vick’s post-snap read to two options: he can keep the ball or hand it off to LeSean McCoy. Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans each block a defensive lineman, and Vick’s read neutralizes outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.

The threat of a screen pass opens up the running game.

From Video

The threat of a screen pass opens up the running game.

Vick correctly hands the ball to McCoy who identifies a huge cutback lane. The fast tempo caught the Redskins defense off-guard and spread them thin, which opened up the running game. Even if the Redskins loaded the box, Peters and Johnson would simply block defenders out wide and open up a lane in a screen pass.

McCoy picks up a ten-yard gain.

From Video

McCoy picks up a 10-yard gain.

Oregon fans saw this formation in 2012 against Stanford. Marcus Mariota threw a low screen pass to De’Anthony Thomas, which caused the play to be dead when his knee hit the ground. The blocking on this play was outstanding. Josh Huff drove a defender into the end zone and right tackle Jake Fisher made an excellent block in space.

Kelly unveiled the Emory and Henry formation against Stanford in 2012.

From Video

Kelly unveiled the Emory and Henry formation against Stanford in 2012.

Kelly added a twist to this look against the New York Giants. Johnson lined up wide left, while Peters remained in his usual spot at left tackle. The right side of the offensive line was unbalanced as tight end Brent Celek lined up next to Herremans. In a sense, this formation is a variation of the “Tackle Over” look Kelly uses frequently to add more beef to the play-side. Think of it as if Kelly is using an astronomically large split between Johnson and Peters.

Johnson lines up wide left in Trips bunch formation.

From Video

Johnson lines up wide left in the Trips Bunch formation.

The inside zone read is packaged with a screen pass. Vick makes a pre-snap read (likely on the Giants’ single-high safety). This means the post-snap read of the unblocked defensive end is irrelevant as Vick will attempt to exploit the two-on-two blocking matchup on the outside.

Vick prepares to make his post-snap read.

From Video

Vick prepares to make his post-snap read.

Wide receiver Jeff Maehl and Johnson become the lead blockers for tight end James Casey.

Vick throws a screen pass.

From Video

Vick throws a screen pass.

Maehl and Johnson must seal the defenders and create a lane for Casey to charge up the field.

Johnson attempts to mirror the defensive back.

From Video

Johnson attempts to mirror the defensive back.

Safety Antrel Rolle disengages from Johnson by using a rip move. Though Johnson has a significant size advantage, his failure to gain advantageous hand position costs him.

Johnson loses the hand battle.

From Video

Johnson loses the hand battle.

The Giants’ defenders collapse the running lane from both sides and bring Casey down. Still, this play resulted in an 11-yard gain for a first down. Vick recognized a potential mismatch on the outside, which could have resulted in an even greater gain – but Johnson needed to execute his block better for that to happen.

A bigger running lane would likely produce a bigger gain.

From Video

A bigger running lane would likely produce a bigger gain.

Kelly sent Johnson out wide on a second play in this game, in which he fared better. The Eagles line up in Trips formation again with McCoy in the backfield. Notice that Peters is lined up on the right side this time, just like he would be in the Tackle Over formation.

A favorable 2-on-2 blocking matchup for Johnson and Jason Avant.

From Video

A favorable 2-on-2 blocking matchup for Johnson and Jason Avant.

Quarterback Matt Barkley is throwing a regular screen pass instead of executing a packaged play. Johnson and wide receiver Jason Avant are the lead blockers for Jackson.

Johnson prepares to build a running lane.

From Video

Johnson prepares to build a running lane.

Johnson does an excellent job using his feet to seal off the inside.

Johnson's footwork improves on this play.

From Video

Johnson’s footwork improves on this play.

He takes the defensive back out of the play, which results in an eight-yard gain for Jackson. This was a play where Johnson’s athleticism in space was on display.

Jackson gains eight yards.

From Video

Jackson gains eight yards.

Kelly’s ability to send Johnson out wide also opens up the running game. On this packaged play, Kelly uses the Trips formation with Johnson lined up in the slot. In another twist, he sends Jackson in motion to the left. This leaves one less defender to cover the play-side of the inside zone.

Johnson lines up in the slot.

From Video

Johnson lines up in the slot.

Quarterback Nick Foles makes a pre-snap read and sees there are four defenders cheating to cover the bubble screen. This leaves seven defenders in the box, five of whom are assigned to the offensive line and one will be “blocked” by Foles on the zone read.

Johnson takes on Patrick Peterson.

From Video

Johnson takes on Patrick Peterson.

When Foles sees that the edge rusher does not crash down, he recognizes a one-on-one matchup for McCoy in space.

McCoy gets a nice opening.

From Video

McCoy gets a nice opening.

Johnson exploits a huge mismatch in a one-on-one matchup with cornerback Patrick Peterson. He cheats to the inside in advance, so Johnson simply drives him towards the sideline and takes him out of the play.

Johnson mauls Peterson.

From Video

Johnson mauls Peterson.

Johnson is a unique specimen at offensive tackle — one who gives Kelly the ability to use many unconventional looks. He remains a work in progress and will need to bounce back from a four-game suspension at the beginning of the regular season. Nevertheless, he will be a crucial component of the offense’s success for many years. The advantages of his freakish athletic skill set should increase with experience, giving him the potential in the future to be an All-Pro offensive lineman.

Top photo from video

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Joe Kearns

Joe Kearns

Joe Kearns is a junior at the Pennsylvania State University who is studying Economics and History. He is a lifelong Philadelphia Eagles fan, as well as a former high school offensive lineman, defensive lineman, and long snapper. In his sophomore year at Penn State, Joe was a staff writer for Penn State’s award-winning independent student newspaper, the Daily Collegian, and covered the women’s golf, men’s gymnastics, and men’s lacrosse teams. He became interested in the University of Oregon football program when Chip Kelly was hired by the Eagles.

  • Famous Duck

    The only picture that came thru to me was the first one and then Dano’s mug.

  • FishDuck

    It is coming thru fine here my friend….I hope you get it resolved.

  • hokieduck

    Not for the first four games.