Former Patriot Looks To Start Over

Former New England Patriots receiver Bethel Johnson never caught on -- so to speak -- as the deep threat the Patriots thought he could be when they drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Although the Patriots tried to make him fit their system, Johnson was the proverbial square peg in the round hole. After being dealt to the Saints, then cut, Johnson hopes to start over in Minnesota.

The Vikings figure to have a new return man when they play Seattle on Sunday in their first game after the bye.

Receiver Bethel Johnson, signed as a free agent last week, is expected to replace Troy Williamson on kicks and also could be used in place of Mewelde Moore on punt returns.

At least that's who coach Brad Childress indicated Monday when asked about Johnson. But Johnson wants to make it clear that he also is a capable receiver and wants to get a shot at making a contribution on offense.

"Everybody tries to put me as just a returner but I can catch the ball," he said.

Johnson, who has exceptional speed, was a second-round pick by New England in 2003. However, he was a disappointment with the Patriots, catching 30 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns.

Johnson's reception total fell from 16 in his rookie campaign, to 10 in 13 games in 2004 and four in 11 games in 2005. The Patriots traded Johnson to New Orleans during the offseason for defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan. Johnson, however, injured his MCL during a preseason game against Indianapolis and received an injury settlement from the Saints.

He said he sat out five weeks so the injury could fully heal. During that time, a few teams expressed interest, but Johnson was waiting for what he thought would be a good fit. When the Vikings called, Johnson jumped.

"I had plenty of opportunities but I had my mind really set on playing here," he said. "There was just something about it. And I like to win. I feel they've got an opportunity here to win."

Johnson certainly could help matters by giving the offense good field position with quality returns. He has done that before, returning 102 kicks for 2,557 yards (25.1 average) and has two touchdowns.

He led AFC kickoff return men as a rookie with a 28.2-yard average (30 returns for 847 yards) and had a touchdown.

Williamson, meanwhile, has returned 13 kicks this season for 303 yards (23.3 average).

While Johnson wants to be viewed as more than just a return man, he admits he enjoys that aspect of the game and would be happy to help.

"Any coach can tell you that I love doing kickoff returns because that's a chance to take the momentum away from another team or set the tempo for your offense," he said. "I love doing kickoff returns."

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