Hartman: Tackle Johnson's progress pleases Vikings

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 29, 2011 - 6:34 AM

Charlie Johnson, under scrutiny after replacing Bryant McKinnie, says the line is rapidly improving.

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Vikings tackle Charlie Johnson

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Local and national media have been critical of the performance of Charlie Johnson, who spent five seasons protecting Peyton Manning with the Colts and replaced Bryant McKinnie at left tackle for the Vikings in training camp, but Leslie Frazier and his offensive coaching staff have been satisfied with his play.

Those coaches say the 6-4, 305-pound Johnson has improved in each of the three exhibition games, including Saturday night's 23-17 loss against Dallas at Mall of America Field, when he was blocking against one of the better defensive teams in the NFL.

"I feel good," Johnson said. "Obviously training camp is a work in progress, and especially with the lockout and coming late to a new team and having to learn a new offense, that can take a little while. But I feel like not only myself but as a team we're at the point where we have an understanding of what's going on and we're getting better every day."

Speaking of his critics, Johnson said: "It's funny how many -- I call them 'Sofa Experts' -- are out there. A lot of people haven't played the game, they don't understand, they just see something and they make a comment on it. I don't concern myself about it. I figure if I was as good or as bad as people say, I probably wouldn't have a job in the league. I'm not worried about it."

Johnson said it does take time to adjust to a new team and a new system.

"It's tough any time you spend five years in an organization with the same playbook and the same people around," he said, "and then all of a sudden you come to a new team with a new playbook and new [terminology] and stuff like that. It's always tough at first, but once you get acclimated to it and you practice it enough, you get comfortable."

Johnson said he believes the offensive line, which some critics believe has to get better, is improving.

"I think we all are," he said. "I think I can tell from my first practice to now that we're more crisp getting in and out of the huddle, getting plays off in time. I feel like we're getting there."

Johnson played in two Super Bowls (after the 2006 and 2009 seasons) with the Colts. He said it was a great honor to block for Manning, a future Hall of Famer.

"It was good, it was really good," Johnson said. "He's a great player, obviously, and an even better person. To be able to block for him and take care of him for five years was an honor."

Likes McNabb

The word from Indianapolis is that Manning was not very happy about the Colts replacing Johnson with first-round draft pick Anthony Castonzo of Boston College.

Johnson was asked to compare the styles of Manning and Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"McNabb is a little more mobile, you know he can make more plays outside the pocket," Johnson said. "Peyton is what you see is what you get. He's going to drop back, stay in the pocket, step up and make plays downfield. Donovan, if stuff breaks down, he can escape the pocket, get outside of it, and make plays. It's a little different that way, but obviously they're both great quarterbacks."

Asked about how it is playing next to left guard Steve Hutchinson, Johnson replied: "Obviously he's a Pro-Bowl player, All-Pro, you name it, he's done it. You can tell just by the way he approaches practice, the way he goes about his business on the field and off the field. You learn why he is as good as he is. To be able to play next to him and for us to be able to communicate and play together has been good."

And why did he pick the Vikings when other teams called? "It wasn't money," Johnson said. "It's never been about money for me. It's just the fact that I guess they were ready to move on. Minnesota called and stayed in contact. An offer came and I took it."

Birk out for Ravens

Rest assured Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't add McKinnie to his roster until he got a good recommendation from Ravens center Matt Birk. Birk and McKinnie were Vikings teammates for seven seasons, from 2002 to 2008. Birk has been out after having arthroscopic surgery on his left knee earlier this month.

Former Gophers standout wide receiver Eric Decker caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Orton in Denver's 23-20 victory over Seattle on Saturday night. Decker finished with four catches for 45 yards, and after three preseason games, he leads the Broncos with eight receptions for 113 yards. ... In that same game, former Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was sacked five times. Jackson, a likely starter for the Seahawks, has completed only 27 of 48 passes for 181 yards this preseason. ... Tight end Dominique Byrd, who played at Breck and Southern California and is now with the Seahawks, caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Jackson against the Broncos.

Former Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards made his 2011 exhibition debut for Atlanta in a 34-16 loss at Pittsburgh on Saturday night. Edwards sat out the Falcons' first two preseason games because of offseason knee surgery. Against the Steelers, he played deep into the third quarter but did not have a tackle. "I don't know if they were too happy with my performance today, but I'm going back to the drawing board to see what I can do," Edwards told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Jottings

• Only 38 players are on the current 90-man Vikings roster from when the team faced the Cowboys on Oct. 17, 2010, and won 24-21. ... It's been a long time since the Vikings had three former Gophers on the squad at one time: cornerback Marcus Sherels, who is likely to make the 53-man squad after performing well in the past two exhibition games; defensive lineman Cedric McKinley, who got a chance late in Saturday's game and did well; and Stylez G. White, the defensive lineman who spent four years with Tampa Bay.

• Here's how important pitching is to a baseball team's success: When the Twins went 18-37 from April 1-June 2, the team ERA was 4.81. When they went 24-12 from June 3-July 15, the team ERA was 3.36. When they went 13-26 from July 16-Aug. 25, the team ERA soared to 5.16.

• Former Gophers tight end Matt Spaeth, who signed with the Bears this offseason after playing with the Steelers for four years, has two catches for 10 yards in the preseason.

• Former Cretin-Derham Hall standout tackle Seantrel Henderson had back surgery earlier this month. Hurricanes coach Al Golden told the Miami Herald the result was "very positive," but "what that means long-term is still tenuous."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. • shartman@startribune.com

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