It’s always hard to understand how a player such as Charles Johnson, who was with three franchises before he ever took a professional snap in the NFL, finally emerges as a player that can really contribute, but that is just what has happened to the Vikings receiver.
Johnson was drafted in the seventh round by the Packers in 2013 but didn’t get a chance to play until last year because of injuries and was put on their practice squad. The Browns, with offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner, signed him to their active roster in October 2013, only to discover he had a knee ligament injury.
But the Turners were rewarded last year when they brought Johnson to the Vikings. In 2014 he grabbed 31 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns.
“I had a prior relationship with Scott Turner; he worked me out pre-draft at my home in Kentucky and he said it was one of the greatest workouts he had ever done, it was one of the best workouts I’d ever done with an individual,” Johnson said. “We built our relationship there and he and Norv called me to come to the Vikings. They said, ‘Man, you could really play here. We know what you can do. We just want to see you come out here and produce for us.’ It was a no-brainer.”
Still it took time for Johnson’s chance to emerge. He caught six passes in the first nine weeks of 2014, before grabbing 25 passes in the final seven games.
“I kept getting more and more reps each week. I start out with just a few reps, then I get a little bit more, and then the Chicago week I think I got like 15 reps [he had six catches for 87 yards in the Week 11 game] and after that I knew everything, I had learned the playbook, and it was, ‘Hey, this guy needs to be on the field.’ ”
The Vikings offense was completely ineffective in Monday’s 20-3 loss at San Francisco, and the team is going to have to get better rhythm in the passing game if it is going to have success this year, starting with Sunday’s game vs. Detroit.
Johnson grabbed two passes for 27 yards vs. the 49ers and looks to build on his 2014 success with the Vikings.
“Norv Turner is one of the best coaches I’ve been around,” he said. “Everyone on the team calls him my dad, everyone says, ‘Norv Turner is your dad.’ That’s just the type of relationship we have. Me and him are real close. He has been successful in this league for years.
“Everyone knows who Norv Turner is in the NFL and his name stands for itself, his résumé speaks for itself. He knows what he’s doing, knows how to get us in the best situations. That’s why he’s been around for so long, and that’s why his offense is so powerful.”
Turner agreed Johnson can play a big role. “He’s a long-armed guy, he’s got great reach,” Turner said. “I thought he played really well the second half of the season. I think he’s improved a great deal over that, just being comfortable with what we’re doing, and he can run. All of the things you can say about guys, defensive backs feel speed and when a guy can run, he changes the way they defend him.”
If the Vikings are going to turn around their offense, Johnson is going to have to be a big part of it.
No capable replacements
Some Gophers football fans will believe the players watched too much of Illinois’ 52-3 victory over Kent State and came in overconfident, and the result was a fortunate 10-7 victory Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
But that was not the case. It is becoming more evident that the defense will have to carry this team, which has no replacements on offense for running back David Cobb and tight end Maxx Williams, who are now both in the NFL. This pair carried the offense last year.
Jerry Kill refused to remark about the failures of his offensive line until after watching video. But the Gophers ran for only 104 yards on 44 carries and didn’t have open holes in critical situations.
In fairness to the line, only two of the seven who typically carry the load aren’t bothered by some type of injury.
“I know we didn’t play well up front,” Kill said. “We’ve had injuries and we three tight ends out. But at the end of the day, those are excuses. Whoever we put in there has to do a good job. We didn’t give our backs much opportunity to run, and you’ve got to run the ball.”
Then Kill took the blame for failure of the offense to score more. “Evidently we didn’t do a good enough job of coaching and I will take the responsibility for that. I’m the head coach. We’ve got to look at the film and keep working.”
One player the critics can’t blame is quarterback Mitch Leidner, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 184 yards and the one touchdown, a 14-yarder to KJ Maye. Leidner also ran seven times for 28 yards.
Leidner did throw two interceptions, but he was running for his life all day.
Next comes Ohio University, and that won’t be easy against a Frank Solich-coached team that is now 3-0 after beating Southeastern Louisiana on Saturday.
• Rumors are that Torii Hunter is telling people he will retire after this season, but the Twins right fielder said he won’t make any decision until the end of the season. One factor in his decision is that manager Paul Molitor wants him back. Hunter, who turned 40 in July, hit two three-run homers this past week.
• Molitor also recently talked about Twins prospect Max Kepler, who was named the Southern League MVP at Class AA Chattanooga. “We’ve talked a lot about [bringing him to the Twins]. The [season] down at Chattanooga is getting extended, which is a good thing for them getting a chance to play for a championship,” Molitor said of the 22-year-old German. “I think there’s a general feel that the year he’s had and the fact that he has a realistic opportunity to have a bright part of our future, that they might want to expose him a little bit up here, at least to show him what it’s like. I don’t think that’s 100 percent confirmed. We’ll let him finish out his season and make a decision.”
• Since March 2013, Percy Harvin has gone from the Vikings to the Seahawks to the Jets and now to the Bills, who signed him this past offseason after he was released by New York. But Harvin produced one of his better games when he caught five passes for 79 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown, in Buffalo’s upset of the Colts in Week 1. Bills coach Rex Ryan was Jets coach last year and obviously saw enough from the talented receiver in half a season to bring Harvin along to Buffalo.
• Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was asked what he is expecting from Teddy Bridgewater against Detroit: “I do not think that Teddy is going to throw another clunker,” he said. “I have never seen that side of him. I think it’s probably just an enigma that this happened. But we’re going to have to find out and see.”