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Rohan: Welcome to the motley crew, Charlie Johnson

Posted by: $author under Quarterbacks, Vikings, Anthony Herrera, Bryant McKinnie, John Sullivan, Phil Loadholt, Steve Hutchinson Updated: August 1, 2011 - 5:14 PM

Well, at least they get it.

It’s refreshing to be reminded that the Vikings knew the offensive line needed upgrading. Offseason chatter of Bryant McKinnie possibly slimming down was negated when he didn’t start training camp practicing with the team for some reason, as Judd Zulgad tweeted Monday.

Then there’s the 34-year old Steve Hutchinson, who is, well, 34 years old.

Phil Loadholt finds himself at a crossroads in his career. He can either stay somewhere between average or slightly above average. Or he can rise above the “stiff” tag that was slapped on Mount McKinnie and prove he’s a big guy who is mentally tough to avoid penalties and nimble enough to stay in front of the tiny — in comparison to the towering Loadholt — defensive ends.

Rounding out the comedy troupe is Anthony Herrera, who’s injured, so the right guard is actually former fifth-round pick Chris DeGeare. And John Sullivan is still the center.

Quite the motely crew if you ask me.

So it’s relieving that the Vikings could see the need and fill it, as they did Monday with the signing of the former Peyton Manning bodyguard, Charlie Johnson, who has had his share of ups and downs early on in his career.

Last season was considered an “up,” as he settled in nicely, finding his stride midseason, as Manning’s left tackle. But the 27-year old has also played left guard and right tackle, with varying levels of success at all of his stops on the offensive line.

He’ll have three years, as his contract indicates, to find a home in Minnesota.

It certainly is encouraging that he was held in high regard for his play last year and that the Colts wanted to retain him. At 6-foot-4, 305 pounds, he seems light enough to move his feet with the Dwight Freeny’s of the league, which isn’t always the case with McKinnie

According to Profootballfocus.com, though, Johnson allowed six sacks last season, and the Colts allowed just 17 as a whole.  The number grows more concerning if you consider the site’s stats that show Manning is one of the best quarterbacks at avoiding getting sacked when he’s pressured. Peyton was only sacked at a 7.5% rate during times when he felt the pressure, which was second-best in the NFL.

But the stats get even more mind boggling the deeper that Pro Football Focus digs. It calculated a pass blocking efficiency rating for every tackle in the league, which accounted for sacks, quarterback hits and hurries and produced a number rating the performance of the tackles that regularly play.

Johnson was the eighth-worst left tackle in the study, although he was on the field for a high-amount of passing plays.

Surprisingly, McKinnie was the 10th-best left tackle rated. Yes, that Mount McKinnie. And Phil Loadholt was the 14th-best right tackle.         

If you want to rate out the value of the rest of the offensive line — Hutchinson was among the top-20 guards (near the end of the list), while Herrera was among the bottom-20 (but one of the better bad-guards), and Sullivan was among the bottom-10 for centers (but again, one of the better bad-centers).

If that sounded confusing, this may simplify things: Hutchinson, McKinnie and Loadholt were slightly above average pass blockers, even if you couldn’t tell, while Herrera and Sullivan were the weak points, but they weren’t the absolute worst.

Johnson himself struggled on the outside. But he’s not the worst either.

So Johnson should be viewed as another body to throw into the mix to start. With Anthony Herrera on the PUP list to start training camp, Charlie Johnson may be the Vikings’ answer at right guard. Then when Herrera comes back it could be the battle between Johnson and Herrera to see who can escape mediocrity.

Johnson’s mobility and slimmer size is intriguing. If the Vikings can be the ones to help him figure it out, then that could create some interesting decisions that would have to be made.

If you can trust Johnson as your left tackle, does McKinnie move inside to guard? What if Loadholt outplays the two of the them and finds he can get comfortable on the left side himself? The line could look different if someone decides to assert themselves.

The Vikings just signed another lineman with his own questions. Donovan McNabb won’t have time to throw with question marks. He needs declarative statements. Periods.    

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