Behind Jaleel Johnson’s dominant effort in the second half of last week’s preseason game in Seattle was a simple sidestep to a different position.
A couple weeks ago, the Vikings moved Johnson, the rookie fourth-round pick out of Iowa, back from nose tackle to the under tackle position, also called the three-technique defensive tackle. That’s where the Vikings need the most help next to nose tackle Linval Joseph. It’s also where coaches and teammates saw Johnson thrive against the Seahawks, and the position where he racked up 7.5 sacks as a senior for the Hawkeyes last fall.
“I feel like he can be a little more free at [under tackle] than at nose,” Joseph said of Johnson’s move. “At nose, you make one mistake you really mess up the whole defense. That’s pressure on him right there.”
Against the Seahawks, Johnson bashed through Seattle’s line for five run stops in 29 snaps, a flash of production the Vikings shouldn’t ignore as they’re again expected to be without injured first-round pick Sharrif Floyd at defensive tackle.
However, Johnson is only getting started.
“I feel like I can do a whole lot more,” Johnson said of lining up on the outside shoulder of the guard. “That position, I feel like I can thrive a whole lot more playing that.”
The Vikings will likely continue to rely on a rotation along the defensive line, where veteran Tom Johnson has started at under tackle throughout the summer. The Johnsons, both Tom and Jaleel, seem to have climbed the depth chart ahead of free-agent addition Datone Jones, who is still learning the basics of the under tackle position, according to coach Mike Zimmer.
“These next two weeks will be important for [Jones],” Zimmer said.
Too close to call
If special teams coordinator Mike Priefer has his way, the Vikings won’t be naming a kicker or punter until after the Aug. 31 preseason finale.
“Because the competition is so close,” Priefer said, “I think what we’re going to do is hopefully go through four preseason games.”
Kickers Kai Forbath and Marshall Koehn haven’t missed through two exhibitions. Punters Ryan Quigley and Taylor Symmank also have performed at comparable levels, according to Priefer. However, Quigley has been the only holder among the two punters this preseason.
Ham’s ‘added value’
Will the Vikings carry a fullback on the roster? If they do, C.J. Ham is the only one to pick from on the current depth chart. The Vikings have tight ends like David Morgan capable of filling a backfield role, but Ham — the converted running back from Duluth — is making his case.
“He’s really a smart kid, physical at the point of attack,” Zimmer said. “Good athlete and he’s got added value as a running back. So that’s a valuable spot if you can get one guy basically playing two positions.”
Ham, undrafted in 2016 out of Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D., is regarded as a solid pass protector, a trait that earned him a practice squad spot last year over other running backs.
Leidner could play
If needed, the Vikings could turn to ex-Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner for reps in Sunday night’s preseason game against the 49ers, according to Zimmer. Leidner, 23, signed with the Vikings on Sunday.
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke, No. 3 in the pecking order, has resumed throwing at practice, but he remains held out of most 11-on-11 drills with an undisclosed injury suffered last week in Seattle.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph, defensive end Brian Robison, tight end Nick Truesdell and cornerback Terrell Sinkfield did not practice Thursday. Receiver Moritz Bohringer left practice with a Vikings athletic trainer.
Left tackle Riley Reiff and running back Latavius Murray practiced and could make their Vikings debuts against the 49ers.