MANKATO, Minn. — Tom Johnson wants to prove he’s a full-time defensive tackle for the Vikings as he leads the pack of what could be a heavy rotation for the D-line.
Johnson, who turns 33 this month, has been tasked with proving himself for seven different teams in two countries. He’s found the most success, and made the most money, with the Vikings.
“I’ve had the most success in the NFL here,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I’ve got a team that’s behind me. They like what I do. And I keep that chip on my shoulder.”
Johnson’s career has taken on many transformations since joining the Vikings three years ago. This summer is no different. This time he’s been leading the rotation at defensive tackle next to Linval Joseph while the Vikings know Sharrif Floyd is unavailable. To stay there, Johnson wants to prove he’s just as capable against the run as well as he’s known for taking down quarterbacks.
“They’ve been saying I was old since 29. Being in the situation I’ve been in, the way my career has gone, I’ve had to prove myself over and over and over and over again,” Johnson said. “They trust me in all situations. So it gives me a chance to display everything. After this year you won’t be able to categorize me as either/or.”
No matter who starts, whether it’s Johnson, Shamar Stephen, ex-Packer Datone Jones or ex-Bear Will Sutton, multiple players will take part in what has been a rotating Vikings defensive line.
It took a village last season to replace Floyd, who played just one game before complications from September knee surgery caused nerve damage in his leg. The Vikings again looked poised to use a few players to fill the void, including Jones, who signed a one-year, $3.75 million deal to jump the border from the Packers. But so far Johnson has been at the front of the pack.
Johnson played 475 snaps [46%] last season as the Vikings leaned on a trio of him, Stephen and Joseph to clog up the middle on first and second downs. The Vikings regularly shifted defensive end Brian Robison into the interior on passing downs (third down).
With 14 sacks in three seasons for the Vikings, Johnson has built a reputation as more of a pass-rush specialist. That’s mostly how the Vikings have used him. But he’d like to be known for more and hopes to bolster a Vikings run defense that struggled at times last season.
“Man, you know I’ve been having to prove guys wrong on this,” Johnson said. “It’s a stereotype I guess just because I’ve had such more success as a pass rusher as opposed to run stopper. If you look at stats, look at the film, look at how they’ve given me more opportunities to stop the run — you’ve seen me progressively get better.”