MOBILE, Ala. – Entering the week here, most of the buzz about offensive line prospects centered on Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher.
Fisher has done nothing to dispel that buzz but there’s another tackle in attendance, this one on the South team, that has done plenty in three days of practice to merit legitimate debate that he’s every bit the tackle Fisher is.
That tackle is Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson, a player who has been every bit as dominant in Senior Bowl practices as Fisher.
Make no mistake, Johnson arrived here with every intention of showing the football world he’s as talented as any tackle in the draft.
“I’m competitive,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to say I am better than anybody but everybody has their opinions. I just try to go out there and showcase what I can do.”
What Johnson can do is take advantage of a 6’6, 302 pound frame that comes equipped with an obscene 83-inch wingspan to dominate defenders as a run blocker and shut down edge rushers in pass protection.
Johnson’s dominant performances this week should come as no surprise after a strong career at Oklahoma. Of course, considering he started his career as a tight end and only really settled in on the offensive line as a junior, he’s just scratching the surface on his potential.
“I think I have good quickness for my size,” Johnson said. “I am able to get my arms extended pretty quick. I have long arms and I try to get to the punch as quick as possible.”
Johnson mostly gets credit for his ability as a pass protector but said he doesn’t consider one or the other more of a strength.
“I try to be balanced,” Johnson said. “I hear people say I am more of a pass protector but I like the run game. I get to show a little nastiness to me. That’s what I tried to really show the last part of my senior year.”
Johnson’s adjustment to tackle didn’t allow for much time to get used to his new digs. In his first game starting at left tackle, he was asked to take on Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner, one of the most highly regarded pass rushers in this year’s class.
In the two years he’s started, Johnson has faced elite pass rushers all over the place, including his final collegiate game against Texas A&M’s highly touted end Damontre Moore in this year’s Cotton Bowl.
As he heads toward this year’s draft, Johnson finds himself in the middle of a talented class of tackles. The Rams have a potential opening for a right tackle as starter
Johnson prefers the left side but said he is capable of stepping in on either side.
“I really do like left tackle better,” Johnson said. “I think it’s just body positioning. The more I play right I can adjust to it, the more I play left I can adjust to it. It’s just the more reps you get, the easier it becomes.”
MCDONALD HAS MORE TO PROVE: There are plenty of players in this year’s draft class that come from impressive bloodlines but perhaps none more so than USC safety T.J. McDonald.
The son of 13-year NFL veteran safety Tim McDonald, T.J. comes to Mobile with a reputation as a solid in the box safety but needing to show he has the ability to cover and play deep.
“A lot of guys ask me to show my range in the deep middle,” McDonald said. “I feel like I’m showing that out here a little bit and have been able to make some plays on the ball. Even if I’m not hitting, when I get to this game day that’s what I plan on doing, making sure I show my range and making sure I’m physical on the back end, not just in the box, being physical in the back, too.”
McDonald was an All America in 2011 and was solid in 2012 as he finished with 110 tackles and two interceptions.
McDonald claims to be a student of the game with a passion for doing the extra film work to ensure he’s prepared when game day arrives.
This week, McDonald is hoping his willingness to help wherever helps him stand out amongst his talented peers.
“I will do whatever they ask me to do,” McDonald said. “Whether it’s deep, whether it’s playing the run, I am going to try to show my range out here. I know I am a physical player in the box and will put my nose in there and blast off and try to get my hands on the ball.”
GETTING AFTER IT: In what was perhaps the most entertaining and high-energy practice of the week, the South team approached Wednesday afternoon’s workout like it was a game.
After competitive seven on seven, nine on seven and one on one pass rush drills, things went up a notch when 11 on 11 started as both sides started vocalizing that energy.
“It was probably because it’s the last time we are in pads until Saturday,” Louisiana Tech receiver Quinton Patton said. “It’s good because everybody likes to get at each other and we can go get after it. You know how men get when they are around each other too much.”
The result was a team period in which the defense dominated early before a rally by the offense later in the practice.
With so many top players in one spot jockeying for position, Wednesday’s practice was more in line with what Patton expected on arrival here this week.
“It’s supposed to be like that,” Patton said. “It’s supposed to be like this the whole week.”
INJURY UPDATES: Many of the same players that did not practice on Tuesday again sat out Wednesday’s workout.
Oregon tackle Kyle Long did not practice again as he battles a bout with the flu. Connecticut linebacker Trevardo Williams also did not practice again, same for Ohio State defensive end John Simon.
Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown is officially an injury scratch as he deals with a shoulder injury.
Clemson running back Andre Ellington had a strong outing Monday but a hamstring injury has kept him out the past two days and will likely keep him out for the weekend as well.
South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is not a senior but he’s here this week to let teams know how his own rehabilitation from a devastating knee injury is coming and how he’ll prepare for the draft in the next few months.