Johnson Still Getting It Done in Minnesota

Brad Johnson is currently enjoying his second tour of duty for the Minnesota Vikings, and he has provided stabiliity to a franchise that has endured unprecedented turbulence the last few seasons. The former Seminole spent some time with the Chicago media via conference call at Halas Hall on Wednesday, and Bear Report was there to hear what the two-time Pro-Bowler had to say.

You want to know how long Brad Johnson has been playing professional football? He was originally selected in the 9th round, that's how long. The NFL Draft has used a seven-round format since 1994.

Although he has certainly done it below the radar, even more so for an also-ran 9th-rounder, Johnson has accomplished a lot in his NFL career. A two-time All-Pro and Super Bowl champion while leading the 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he has an awfully impressive resume for a player who couldn't even hold on to the starting job in college. Johnson was replaced by Casey Weldon at Florida State in 1990 - both of them were juniors at the time - and never started another game for head coach Bobby Bowden.

Nevertheless, the Vikings thought enough of the 6'5", 226-pounder to take him in the 1992 NFL Draft. He was finally given a chance to start in `96 and `97, and although he perfomed rather well, he suffered an injury during the `98 season that sealed his original fate in Minnesota. A rejuvenated Randall Cunningham took over and ultimately became the NFL MVP, directing an offense that scored at least 31 points 11 times in 16 games en route to a 15-1 record.

The Vikings put the final nail in Johnson's coffin when they drafted Daunte Culpepper in the first round the following April, but he landed in Washington shortly thereafter. All he did his first season with the Redskins was earn a trip to the Pro Bowl by posting 4,005 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. He did not play quite as well in 2000, and he was jettisoned in favor of the likes of Tony Banks, Kent Graham, and Jeff George. By the way, the Redskins opened 2001 with an 0-5 mark. Johnson had taken his underappreciated act back to the Sunshine State.

Finally convinced that Shaun King was not the answer under center and realizing that their unbelievable defense wasn't enough to get it done by itself, Johnson proved to be the missing part of the puzzle in Tampa Bay. He made his second Pro Bowl in 2002 thanks to 22 TD passes against only six INTs, but his crowning achievement came a year later. Defensive all-stars like Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp got most of the publicity, but Johnson's calming influence on the other side of the ball was instrumental in the Bucs winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history.

Johnson signed as a free agent with the Vikings again before last season, brought in solely to be Culpepper's backup. But Culpepper got off to a horrible start and ultimately blew out his knee, and Johnson took over. He led Minnesota on a midseason six-game winning streak and had his team in the playoff hunt before back-to-back losses in Weeks 15 and 16. In the wake of the sex cruise scandal and outlandish negative criticism surrounding the franchise, the Vikings had all the makings of a team ready to implode. Johnson simply wouldn't let that happen.

With Culpepper now in Miami and new head coach Brad Childress replacing the embattled Mike Tice, Johnson is the unquestioned starter once again on a Minnesota team many experts think can do some damage in a wide-open NFC playoff hunt. With new tailback Chester Taylor running behind a gigantic offensive line and an improving defense that is much more athletic than it had been in previous years, these are not the Vikings we have come to expect the last decade or so. Already 2-0 with victories on the road in Washington and at home agaisnt Carolina, a victory this Sunday over the defending division champion Bears would solidify them atop the North standings.

And with Johnson at the controls, the Vikings are sure to do it very efficiently and very quietly.

JC


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