Vikings' Johnson: Charlie come lately

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2012 - 7:59 AM

By selflessly adapting to new roles, Charlie Johnson shows he would rather be useful to his team than feel important.

Becoming a leader and the oldest offensive starter on a 3-1 team that has shocked the NFL isn't something Vikings left guard Charlie Johnson would have predicted for himself 10 years ago.

Neither would have Kevin Williams, a senior at Oklahoma State the year Johnson arrived in Stillwater as a ... um, mass-vs.-velocity-challenged 18-year-old skill-position player from Sherman, Texas.

"I look up and here comes this chubby little tight end that wasn't so little," said Williams, a Vikings defensive tackle, chuckling at the memory. "Boy, he could catch. But he couldn't run away from anybody."

"Chubby!?" Johnson responded in protest. "I was what you'd call a 'possession' tight end."

The end of Johnson's pass-catching days came when Cowboys coach Les Miles and his staff moved on to LSU and were replaced by Mike Gundy and a spread offense similar to the one used at Florida. Johnson spent three seasons backing up current Baltimore Raven Billy Bajema and was expecting 2005 to be "my year" with Bajema having moved on to the NFL.

Johnson wasn't upset that his tight end career ended at 20 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns. When asked "Why not?" Johnson gave an answer that helps explain why Vikings coach Leslie Frazier calls him one of the most unselfish, well-respected players he has ever coached.

"I was the one who switched myself to tackle," Johnson said. "I knew my skill set at tight end wasn't going to translate to the spread. So I went to the coaches the first day and told them the only way I can help this team is at tackle."

So Johnson added 20 pounds and became a 300-pound first-year senior tackle on a team in transition. A team that went 4-7. It wasn't career suicide; it only looked that way at the time.

That's why Johnson is surprised to reach Year 7 of such an unlikely NFL career. That's also why he is at such a loss when reporters practically beg him to kick and cry and throw himself on the ground because the Vikings replaced him at left tackle with Matt Kalil, this year's fourth overall draft pick. Never mind the fact that the Vikings then asked Johnson to replace left guard Steve Hutchinson, a seven-time All-Pro and now a member of the Titans team that plays the Vikings on Sunday.

"I have no room to complain about anything," Johnson said. "If they want me to move from left tackle to guard, so what? I have a job that most people only dream about. I don't know. Maybe I feel that way because of how it all started for me."

Super Bowl bound

Johnson wasn't asked to any of the college all-star games. There was no invitation to the NFL combine. And he had one heck of a time finding an agent to take his NFL aspirations seriously.

"This one guy I called said he'd think about representing me," Johnson said. "I waited and waited. Finally, I call him back. And he says, 'Oh, yeah, our company doesn't think you'd be a wise investment.' I ended up finding an agent through a family member."

The Colts used a sixth-round draft pick on Johnson in 2006. He had one start at right tackle and played in the Super Bowl XLI victory as a rookie. Injuries to others led to him starting 10 games at left tackle in 2007 and 16 games at left guard in 2008. He won the left tackle job in 2009, starting 27 games and playing in another Super Bowl over the next two years.

Johnson thought he was returning to the Colts in 2011, even though they used their first-round pick on a left tackle, Anthony Castonzo.

"The next thing I know, I'm on a plane to Minnesota right after the lockout," Johnson said. "Then I get a playbook and, 'Hey, you got two days to learn what we're trying to do.' Then Bryant [McKinnie] gets released two days after that and I'm lining up across from Jared [Allen] as the starting left tackle in Mankato. The whole thing was surreal."

Eight months later, Kalil was in the cafeteria lunch line at Winter Park. He and safety Harrison Smith were in town to meet the media the day after being selected in the first round.

Moving over

Kalil recognized the guy walking toward him. The beard that sticks about 6 inches beyond Johnson's chin was the dead giveaway.

"He shook my hand, told me there's no hard feelings and not to hesitate if there's anything I need," Kalil said. "For that to be one of my first experiences here, that was a big relief for me as a rookie. It made it easier on me because as I saw him, I'm thinking, 'Uh-oh, how to I approach this?' And now, look at him. He's been killing it at guard."

Johnson may be the elder statesman on offense, but he's only 28. That's six years younger than the soon-to-be-35-year-old Hutchinson, whom coaches felt no longer fit the team's run-oriented approach.

"Hutch was a great player for a long time here," Frazier said. "So no knock on Hutch, other than he was at a different stage in his career when he left. Charlie is younger and gives us a little bit more of some of the things we're looking for in the run game."

The Vikings enter Sunday with the league's 10th-ranked running game. In back-to-back upsets over the 49ers and Lions, the Vikings have dominated the line of scrimmage and continued to run the ball effectively even when the other side knows it's coming. Meanwhile, Tennessee ranks 28th in rushing despite having former 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson.

When he's not hanging out with best friend and starting right tackle Phil Loadholt or playing with his two young sons, Chandler and Cyrus, Johnson always is finding ways to fit in. His many interests include a passion for professional wrestling that he shares with strength and conditioning coach -- and resident pro wrestling guru -- Tom Kanavy; reading all sorts of books, from "The Hunger Games'' to the Pete Maravich biography he's currently reading; and dazzling receiver Michael Jenkins and others with his quick recall of song titles when they are playing the Song Pop app.

Italian painters?

Oh, and there also are the crossword puzzles from the Star Tribune and New York Times that he and center John Sullivan devour during lunchtime in the office of equipment manager Dennis Ryan. Hutchinson used to help them, although he was known more for prematurely writing in wrong answers before the other two had time to corroborate.

"Obviously, we're at two-thirds strength in our crossword puzzles knowledge," Sullivan said. "But I think Charlie and I have been able to overcome it to a certain extent. Charlie is much more cautious than Hutch, so that helps."

Hutchinson returned fire when reached by conference call in Nashville this week. After praising Johnson's football intelligence, Hutchinson went tongue-in-cheek negative when asked for Johnson's strengths and weaknesses in the crossword puzzle department.

"Renaissance era and Italian painters," he said. "He always got stuck on them."

The mood will turn serious Sunday when the Vikings try to surpass last year's win total. A revamped offensive line is the unsung key.

"When I finished school, I wasn't sure any of this would ever happen," Johnson said. "I graduated with a degree in education. I figured there was a good chance I'd probably end up getting certified and probably teach in middle school and coach high school football.

"Like I said, what do I have to complain about?"

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Toronto 1 Top 4th Inning
NY Yankees 1
Washington 0 Bottom 4th Inning
Miami 0
NY Mets 2 Bottom 2nd Inning
Atlanta 0
Boston 1 Bottom 2nd Inning
Baltimore 0
Milwaukee 0 Top 3rd Inning
Pittsburgh 0
Chicago WSox 4 Bottom 2nd Inning
Tampa Bay 0
Cleveland - C. Kluber 1:10 PM
Minnesota - A. Swarzak
Detroit - R. Porcello 1:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Guthrie
Seattle - H. Iwakuma 1:10 PM
Houston - C. McHugh
Los Angeles - J. Wright 1:20 PM
Chicago Cubs - J. Turner
Texas - N. Tepesch 2:35 PM
LA Angels - C. Rasmus
Philadelphia - A. Burnett 3:05 PM
Oakland - S. Kazmir
San Francisco - R. Vogelsong 3:10 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Arizona - W. Miley 3:10 PM
Colorado - C. Bergman
Cincinnati - A. Simon 7:05 PM
St. Louis - L. Lynn
San Diego 10 2nd Qtr 3:00
Buffalo 0
Dallas 7 2nd Qtr 1:58
St. Louis 21
Washington 17 2nd Qtr 5:48
Philadelphia 14
Houston 0 2nd Qtr 2:00
NY Giants 7
Minnesota 6 2nd Qtr 2:17
New Orleans 13
Tennessee 0 2nd Qtr 3:24
Cincinnati 19
Baltimore 10 2nd Qtr 3:03
Cleveland 7
Green Bay 7 2nd Qtr 6:04
Detroit 12
Indianapolis 20 2nd Qtr 3:31
Jacksonville 0
Oakland 3 2nd Qtr 2:45
New England 7
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 2 1st Prd 1:22
Carolina 1
Buffalo 4:00 PM
Washington
St. Louis 5:30 PM
Columbus
Calgary 7:00 PM
Edmonton
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Calgary
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
Miss State 34 FINAL
(8) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(14) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(24) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
(22) Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(22) Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 2:00 PM
Toronto FC
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 1 4:40
Montreal 15
Ottawa 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans Noon
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings do on Sunday in New Orleans?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close