Vikings rookie Johnson values his time as starter

By Dave Campbell

Associated Press

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Now that Madieu Williams has been re-integrated into the starting lineup at safety, Tyrell Johnson has taken a step back to focus on special teams.

Technically, it was a demotion. But the move wasn’t made for performance reasons. By all accounts, the second-round draft pick held up just fine in his first NFL action.

It’s simply that Williams was one of Minnesota’s major offseason acquisitions, and the guy with the expensive contract and four seasons of experience with a reputation as a strong tackler and solid coverage skills is usually going to play in front of the rookie.


Johnson understands this, but he didn’t mind expressing unhappiness with his decreased responsibilities.

"To be honest with you, it’s tough," said Johnson, who had one interception, one fumble recovery, four passes defended and 29 tackles in those seven games he started. "Right when I’m starting to peak and get better, you’ve got to take a back seat. But that’s how the business works. It’s how things go. I’ll never get used to being the backup. I’ll never settle for being the backup. So I’ll make that one thing known. But I’m OK with it for now, and I’m all about doing whatever I can to help the team win."

The Vikings value Johnson’s ability to boost their special teams units, so that’s some solace he can take. He played on the main four groups last Sunday against Houston: kickoff and punt coverage and kickoff and punt return.

"He’s a great athlete, and he has a good attitude," special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said. "You’ll see him get better with every rep that he takes in each phase. It’s all about game experience right now for him. No different than it was when he was a safety. As he gets the experience, we’ll see him improve in all of those phases. I expect him to be a big playmaker for us."

With veteran Darren Sharper in the final year of his contract, the likelihood of Johnson moving back into the starting lineup next season alongside Williams is high. So all the experience he’s gained this fall, even if he doesn’t play much more down the stretch, will only help him in 2009.

"As a rookie, not many people get to do that," Johnson said. "And you know, I’m still getting trickled in here and there just to keep the feeling of the game and the speed. So it’s no negative, playing seven games."

What To Read Next
Get Local