When Adam Thielen missed the first game of his pro career last week, the Vikings had to rely on rookie Bisi Johnson to fill in for their Pro Bowl wideout.
And again, Johnson produced, making two receptions for 27 yards in the 19-9 victory over Washington on Oct. 24. That gave him 15 receptions (on 19 targets) for 161 yards and one touchdown. Johnson ranks fifth on the team in both receptions and receiving yards.
It’s an impressive rookie season, considering Johnson was drafted in the seventh round (247th overall) in 2019, only eight picks from the final selection. But while several teams passed on Johnson, he knew he could play right away this season.
“I was confident. I knew I had the ability to play in the NFL. There was no doubt about it,” Johnson said. “I knew special teams was going to be a big part of my rookie year, but I also knew I could contribute offensively.
“I’m grateful for it. I’m blessed just to be able to be a part of this team and have the opportunities I have.”
With Thielen getting hurt in Week 7 at Detroit, Johnson played 71.2% of offensive snaps in the 42-30 victory over the Lions, then set a career high with 53 snaps vs. Washington.
He said he has benefited from working with Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
“They have been in this game a long time, and they know technique and how to run routes and stuff like that,” Johnson said. “If I’m out there in practice and maybe I run a route wrong, they will give me pointers, tips, how to run it better the next time.”
He also said working with quarterback Kirk Cousins in practice has paid off.
“As far as like catch points and things like that, when we’re out there on the field, we just have to get on the same page,” Johnson said. “I think he communicates that pretty well in practice.”
Johnson, who went to Colorado State out of Bear Creek High School in Lakewood, Colo., said he was not highly recruited going into college. But after Week 8, he ranks 15th among rookie wide receivers in receptions.
He said the transition to the NFL has not been easy.
“I would say the complexities of the playbook, it just gets a little bigger and you have to learn a little more,” he said. “Also, being the third wide receiver, I have to know my position. That is the hard part.”
Asked if there is any one part of the game he is having to focus on more, he said: “I would just say being more aggressive in the run-block game, and not making rookie mistakes. At this point I am in the NFL and I am playing, so there’s no reason I should be making rookie mistakes. I just have to go out there and play as if I was in the league for 10 years.”
Johnson added that one person who has really helped him this season is Drew Petzing, who is in his sixth season as a Vikings assistant and first as wide receivers coach.
“He is great. He is definitely an analytical guy, numbers guy, but he knows the game so well,” Johnson said. “Whether it’s routes, blocking, learning the playbook. He puts us through a walkthrough every morning. He has us locked in and ready for Sundays.”
The Vikings should have Thielen back this week for their game at Kansas City, but there’s no doubt that Johnson will continue to be counted on as the season moves forward.
Morgan tops Big Ten
On Saturday, Nov. 9, the Gophers, at 8-0 and ranked No. 13 in the country, will have their biggest game in decades when they play host to No. 5 Penn State, also 8-0.
After completing 12 of 21 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the Gophers’ 52-10 victory over Maryland, sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan leads the Big Ten in passer efficiency during conference play at 187.9, ahead of Ohio State’s Justin Fields, who is at 176.0.
Morgan grew up in Union, Ky., and said in a recent interview that his love of college football came from his father, Ted.
“My dad really got involved in football and loving football. It has always been something that is big in our family, and growing up in Kentucky I just loved watching football and watching people play and hearing the stories of Tim Couch [the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft and Morgan’s cousin] and it has been something that has been a part of our lives forever.”
Believes in Fleck
Coming out of high school, Morgan was viewed as the 1,185th prospect in the nation in the Class of 2017, according to 247Sports.
“I started all four years,” said Morgan, who attended Hazard High School for two years before finishing his final two years at Ryle High School. “I think we lost nine games overall but never won a state championship in high school. But it was good.”
P.J. Fleck had been recruiting Morgan to Western Michigan when the coach got the Gophers job.
“If coach Fleck didn’t come here, I would have gone to Western Michigan with coach Fleck,” Morgan said. “The moment I met coach Fleck in person and really got to know what his culture is all about, I wanted to be 100 percent involved in it. I wanted to be in the ‘Row the Boat’ culture. That was the day that I decided to be a part of it.”
Did he ever think he would be playing this quick?
“You have to prepare that way and be ready to play from the moment you get on campus,” Morgan said. “You have to do whatever you can to help your team out for whenever your number is called.”
Morgan said it helped this year’s Gophers to have ended last season as strong as they did. He started the final six games of 2018, as the Gophers went 4-2 and beat Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin before defeating Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Now, Morgan has led the team to 11 victories in a row.
“But we have to take it one game at a time, one practice at a time and do what we can to change our best on a daily basis,” he said.
Asked about the group of receivers he is working with, Morgan had plenty of praise to offer, saying: “Tyler [Johnson] is an elite route runner and just making plays, you can always count on him. Rashod [Bateman] is a very explosive guy, again works his tail off and finds his way open. Chris [Autman-Bell] and Demetrius [Douglas] are both elite receivers and they work their tails off and find ways to get open.”
And while the team is off to a perfect start, Morgan said that this whole season has been about paying attention to whatever game is right in front of them.
“We can do elite things here,” he said. “But we have to take it one game at a time. Every game is like a championship game. That is how we have to approach it.”