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New Vikings lineman Charlie Johnson, ineligible to practice until Thursday, fielded questions about taking over at left tackle for recently released Bryant McKinnie.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

VIKINGS TRAINING CAMP

Today's practices: 9-10 a.m (walkthrough) and 3-5:30 p.m. (full pads) at Minnesota State Mankato • Preseason opener: Aug. 11 at Tennessee

Teammates: McKinnie cut justified

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG
  • Star Tribune
  • August 4, 2011 - 7:09 AM

MANKATO - Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield was asked Wednesday if it's comforting to know that Charlie Johnson is on the roster.

"I think it is ... I think it is ... ," he said before pausing with a puzzled look that defined the aftermath of Tuesday's bold decision to release out-of-shape left tackle Bryant McKinnie.

"Hold on," he said. "Who's Charlie Johnson?"

Um, your new starting left tackle? Blind-side protector for soon-to-be 35-year-old quarterback Donovan McNabb and possible future face of the franchise Christian Ponder?

"When will he be here?" Winfield asked.

Ah, he's been here since Sunday, when the Vikings reportedly gave him a $10.5 million contract over three years to leave Indianapolis and his starting gig as Peyton Manning's left tackle.

"I do know he's from the Colts," Winfield said. "So that's good."

The Vikings will waste no time finding out. They gave Johnson McKinnie's No. 74 jersey number and plugged him into the starting lineup beginning with training camp's first full-pads practice on Thursday morning.

"The biggest challenge is probably just figuring out what to do," said Johnson, who was among the players who had to sit out until Thursday per rules of the new collective bargaining agreement. "The first time I got the playbook was on Monday."

Five days before that, coach Leslie Frazier had a feeling McKinnie might become an issue when players reported to Winter Park to show whether they fulfilled their bonus-money obligations. McKinnie had a $250,000 workout bonus but, according to an NFL source, weighed in at nearly 400 pounds, or about 65 over his listed weight.

McKinnie told the celebrity gossip website TMZ the reason he was placed on the non-football injury (NFI) list was because his cholesterol was too high and he had to lose weight. Frazier still won't say why he released McKinnie, but made it clear he thinks the Vikings are better off without him.

"In Bryant's case, he's been a terrific player for the Vikings, I love him as a person and we built a great relationship together, but at this point, for all parties involved, I just thought it was the right thing to do," Frazier said. "I'm sure he's going to catch on with a team and he's going to do well. He's a terrific player, but for where we are right now and where we're trying to go to, it just wasn't the right fit."

Owner Zygi Wilf gave his support of the move at camp on Wednesday.

"I give a lot of faith to coach Frazier and Rick Spielman [vice president of player personnel] to make those decisions," Wilf said. "It was a football decision on their part. Certainly I was aware of it but I left it up to them. I think our team is in great hands."

Frazier said he wasn't trying to set a tone as a new head coach. But a message was delivered loud and clear nonetheless.

"The message was no one is untouchable," Winfield said. "We're all professionals. We understand that the only thing we had to do was come here in shape. The coaches really had no choice but to do what they did."

In general, McKinnie's former teammates are disappointed in him and supportive of Frazier's move, even though it introduces a new starter at one of the NFL's most important positions only 37 days before the season opener.

"That was Bryant's decision, how he reported to camp," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "At the end of the day, he has to deal with it. I'm sorry to hear he's gone, but we have to move on with someone else."

That someone else is the 27-year-old Johnson. A sixth-round draft pick of the Colts in 2006, Johnson has started 53 games over the past four years and won a Super Bowl alongside Frazier, a Colts assistant at the time.

Even if Johnson doesn't pan out, Winfield said players like himself, who showed up in shape, aren't angry that McKinnie let them all down.

"You can't be mad at him," Winfield said. "I'm sure he's disappointed in himself. That's kind of embarrassing. But he's going to have to deal with it."

Winfield went on to say he isn't surprised that some players around the league fell out of shape during the 4 1/2-month lockout.

"With so much time off, guys do different things," Winfield said. "Some guys relax. Some guys like to travel. Some guys like to party. But you have to be disciplined. All you had to do was work out and stay in some kind of shape."

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