Why Eagles teammates weren't surprised Big Fred Johnson made the team

Why Eagles teammates weren't surprised Big Fred Johnson made the team originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Before Fred Johnson signed a new two-year deal and before he officially made the Eagles’ 53-man roster, Lane Johnson named Big Fred when asked about which players he expected to have a big season this year.

His teammates saw it.

Fred Johnson was mostly an afterthought when the Eagles signed him to their practice squad last November. But as this summer went on, he began to separate himself from the crowd and earned a roster spot in the process.

“He just played really consistently,” Lane Johnson said. “I think last year he did some good things, just with his length and his size. He was able to keep guys away with his timing. I feel like his hands were really a lot better this camp. You get a guy that big and he learns how to throw those arms around, he’s really improved a lot. Had a great camp.”

At 6-foot-7 and 326 pounds, Johnson certainly has the size to be an NFL offensive lineman. But after going undrafted out of Florida in 2019, Johnson struggled to find his long-term home.

Johnson was initially signed by the Steelers, but then found some playing time with the Bengals, playing in 23 games with 8 starts. Last year, he played in 5 games with the Bucs before he was released in November and subsequently signed to the Eagles’ practice squad a week later.

He was along for the ride to Super Bowl LVII. But even Johnson was beginning to wonder if he was just going to be an NFL journeyman forever.

After a release for procedural reasons last week, the Eagles signed Johnson to a new two-year deal, signifying his spot on the roster.

“Just means they wanted to keep me around,” Johnson said last week. “I mean, honestly, like I never even had a talk with extensions before in five years. You start wondering, ‘Am I just a journeyman? Am I just this and that?’ So when they said the extra year and you know put some (guaranteed money) behind it, I was just like, ‘What else are we waiting for?’"

A year ago, the Eagles had the luxury of dressing a former first-round pick as their backup left tackle. But Andre Dillard left during free agency, taking a three-year, $29 million deal to join the Titans this offseason.

At the start of the summer, it was fair to wonder who was going to be the backup left tackle behind Jordan Mailata. Would Jack Driscoll become the backup swing tackle? Would free agent pickup Dennis Kelly stick? Would rookie Tyler Steen become the backup at that spot too?

Ultimately, though, Johnson began to get second-team reps and he looked really good.

“He’s got the body and the size to play tackle here,” Mailata said. “He is strong as hell. I mean, that boy, he gets both hands or even just one hand, it’s enough to knock somebody on their a--. But he’s hella strong. We just gotta get his technique down pat and, yeah, from what what we’ve seen so far, he’s a hell of an addition and excited to have him on board.”

The Eagles kept nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster: The five starters, third-round pick Steen, former fourth-round pick Driscoll and Sua Opeta, who has been with the Eagles since 2019. Johnson is the other.

Johnson beat out a bunch of other guys for his roster spot. And seeing him come so far has been a point of pride for his teammates.

“Yeah,” Lane Johnson said. “Just seeing the progress from last year to this year is what I think coaches and players and everyone really kind of looks for, and the player. He’s taken it to the next level. He’s a good teammate too. He’s funny as hell. So I like having him in the room too. Character, but really just a good football player.”

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