Tyler Johnson made a quick impact as a freshman for the Gophers last season, making three catches in the opener against Oregon State and three more, with his first touchdown grab, in Week 2 against Indiana State.
Johnson had 10 receptions after four games, and it seemed the Minneapolis North grad was headed for a big season. But he made just four catches the rest of the year, and just one in the final five games.
It was easy to forget, however, that Johnson was in his first year as a wide receiver, after playing quarterback for North. He's already made a strong impression on new coach P.J. Fleck.
When asked about Johnson on Saturday, Fleck answered with references to two NFL receivers -- Mohamed Sanu (who played under Fleck at Rutgers and is now with the Atlanta Falcons) and Vincent Jackson (who played under Fleck with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
"Do not say I’m not comparing him," Fleck said. "The characteristic he has that’s similar to a guy that’s close to me, Vincent Jackson, is that you could teach Vincent Jackson to do one thing that he didn’t just do, the next rep [snaps finger], he fixes it. That’s what TJ’s got.
"I mean it’s amazing how much growth he had to even Thursday to [Saturday]. There were some things Thursday that he couldn't do. [Saturday], he came back and looked like he’s been doing it for 30 years. I mean it was impressive.
"He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve been around. His work ethic reminds me of Mohamed Sanu, and I don’t like comparisons, but in my own mind, that’s what I do.
"He wants to be the best. He wants to be a leader. He just has to learn how to do that, and that’s why the coaches are here. But I’m very impressed with him so far, and the steps he’s making. He’s gotta continue to get better."