Jaymar Johnson is doing everything he can to kick start a career that, unlike his route-running, has been slow to take off.
Johnson is one of the faster Vikings, but the 2008 sixth-round draft choice has yet to make a big impact on the offense. His rookie year was spent on the practice squad and last year was spent on injured reserve after a preseason thumb injury and a numbers game ended his season prematurely. In between, he has one season in which he was active for six games, mainly as a punt returner.
This year, the former Jackson State star has spent months getting in tremendous physical condition running at Larry Fitzgerald's conditioning camp, both in Arizona and the more recent version at the University of Minnesota. As dozens of NFL and college players run gassers, Johnson's speed gives him an initial advantage, but by the end of the routine, he toys with others by turning around and running the last leg in a backpedal while looking at a herd of players trailing in his wake.
"This right here gets me hands-down in the best condition, gets me faster because I'm competing with Larry every day, I'm competing with Tyler [Palko] every day," Johnson said after a day's work last week. "I'm competing with other receivers every day. We're going full throttle with everything we do."
Johnson has been at it for more than three months and he's ready to get the season started. Depending on what happens with Sidney Rice in free agency and what kind of an impression Johnson can leave on new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, he could have an increased role, or at least a better opportunity.
"My thing is, just go into camp ready. Just be ready when my opportunity comes. My team already knows what I can do, so just show everybody in the world what I can do and just be ready to do anything to help my team," Johnson said. "Basically, I can't really worry about Sidney's situation. That's one of my great fans on the team. Can't worry about his situation. We'd love to have him back. Can't worry about the lockout. You've got to be ready when we start."
"… Either way it goes, it could be [Sidney Rice], it could be whoever. They could bring Jerry Rice back, I don't care. I'm just going to go out there and give it all I got and then we're going to compete and we're going to go at it for this job."
The physical preparation Johnson has been putting in is already apparent. But it's what he has learned from some the best receivers in the game, past and present, that could really pay dividends for him.
Last year at the Fitzgerald camp, former Vikings receiver Cris Carter, former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin, former Falcons receiver Andre Rison and former 49ers receiver Jerry Rice were all part of the talent parade Fitzgerald brought in to help the players. This year, Carter was back and giving Johnson some pointers.
"Every time he comes, he tries to help me out. His main thing is to control my speed and trying to teach me to play fast with my speed and everything," Johnson said. "He was a big receiver and wasn't as fast. He's trying to teach me some of the things that he used and trying to incorporate with my game. Same thing with Michael Irvin when he came out last year. He's trying to do the same thing. Their main thing is to control my speed coming out of my breaks."
Even a Green Bay Packer is helping Johnson with the finer points of route-running. While Johnson has only career catch, Greg Jennings has 322 NFL receptions in his five-year career, but shared some pointers with the Vikings receiver.
"He's fast, too. He kind of shocked me," Johnson said. "He said he doesn't run [any] of his routes full speed. He said he runs maybe like 85, 90 percent and then when the ball is in the air and he locates it and after he catches it, then he goes because it's catching the [defender] off guard. So he gave me some tips to use. I kind of stole a lot of my stuff from him, watching him. … They are all showing me different things and what not to use."
In a week, it will be up to Johnson to incorporate what he's learned and make his fourth NFL training camp the start of his best season. After the physical and mental training he's been through the last three months, it might finally happen.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
WR Johnson ready to put training into action
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