NORMAN — Mere months ago, Lane Johnson began fall camp fighting for a starting role on Oklahoma's offensive line.
By the season opener, he had moved into the lineup; and today, Johnson is a widely projected top-15 NFL Draft pick after an impressive performance at last month's Senior Bowl, where he showcased athleticism and speed uncommon for offensive linemen.
Rapid change isn't new, though, to Johnson, a former quarterback, tight end and defensive end who finally found a home at offensive tackle two years ago.
The 6-foot-7, 303-pound offensive tackle was invited Wednesday to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where he'll be joined Feb. 24-26 by former teammates Landry Jones, Tony Jefferson, Kenny Stills, Stacy McGee and Tom Wort.
Johnson played quarterback at Kilgore College, but switched to tight end, which is where he began his Oklahoma career. He changed again to defensive end, then to offensive tackle before his junior season.
Over that span, he transitioned himself from a tall, lanky quarterback to an imposing, powerful offensive tackle. But even as he gained weight, Johnson kept his speed, which he demonstrated throughout Senior Bowl week, especially on one memorable play during the game.
Former Utah State cornerback Will Davis returned an interception 25 yards before Johnson — in a dead sprint — caught up near the sideline and shoved him out.
From the preseason position battle to Twitter critics, to whom he has sometimes responded, Johnson said those who question his ability drive him to work harder.
“A lot of people underestimate me,” Johnson said. “I take people's criticism to heart. It's what fuels me and drives me to get where I'm at today.”
Johnson's old quarterback knows a thing or two about criticism; Landry Jones had a solid week of Senior Bowl practices, but completed only 3 of 9 passes for 16 yards, with three sacks, in the game.
ESPN.com NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., said in a recent media teleconference that he sees Jones going in the “third-to-fifth round area.”
Stills and Jefferson, a receiver and a safety, respectively, are each generally mid-round projections after opting to forgo their senior seasons and enter this year's draft.
Wort, a linebacker, surprised several people by choosing to skip his senior season after a disappointing junior campaign, during which he only recorded 53 tackles and two sacks in new defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' unfamiliar system.
McGee, meanwhile, ended his college career in the most disappointing of fashions; he was suspended for the Sooners' Cotton Bowl loss after a late-December DUI arrest, and spent the first half of last season suspended for violating team rules.
Johnson is the only former Sooner projected as a high pick; in ESPN's recent mock drafts, Kiper slotted him going 16th to the St. Louis Rams, and Todd McShay has at No. 11, going to the San Diego Chargers.
“They were pretty wowed by all the positions that I've played,” Johnson said of NFL scouts.
“I want to show them I have the fundamentals and technique down to play tackle well. I'm not a raw prospect by any means.”
COWBOYS AT THE COMBINE
Three Oklahoma State football players were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, which will be held Feb. 23-26. Only two of those players will be going, however.
Junior running back Joseph Randle and kicker/punter Quinn Sharp will be attending the combine.
Cowboys receiver Tracy Moore was also invited, but will not be going. Moore, the Cowboys' top returning target in 2012 before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury in October, is expected to receive a medical redshirt and return in 2013.
The combine is held in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Field. The NFL Draft is April 25-27.