Johnson, along with the other Vikings players that signed a contract since the lockout ended, will be able to practice for the first time Thursday afternoon after being non-participant from practices since they opened Monday. Guys like Donovan McNabb have wanted to be out on the field since arriving at Mankato, but Johnson said he has actually benefitted from being separated from his teammates the last three days.
"Having these last three days of not being able to practice has actually kind of helped," Johnson said. "It's given me time to look at [the playbook] and not have to worry about executing it the next day. Come tomorrow, [my] head's going to spinning – the nerves, the anxiety, all the stuff that comes along with it – especially in a new situation."
Replacing a Vikings fixture like McKinnie won't be easy. In the 50-year history of the Vikings, just five players – Grady Alderman, Steve Riley, Gary Zimmerman, Todd Steussie and McKinnie – have been the entire show at left tackle. Alderman was the starting left tackle from 1961-73. Riley was the first-round pick in 1974 and held down the position until 1984. After one year with Curtis "Boo Boo" Rouse at left tackle, the Vikings acquired Zimmerman from the USFL and he held down the position until 1992. After one year of the Everett Lindsey Experience, Steussie was drafted in the first round in 1994 and manned the spot until 2000. One year of Brad Badger prompted the Vikings to draft McKinnie in 2002 and he's held the job since.
Johnson will have a challenge, assuming a role that has been manned by so few for so long. Not knowing if he will add to the list of Vikings legends on the list or be the next Charles Goodrum, Lindsey or Badger is still up to debate. But, Johnson said his quest is getting his feet wet in new surroundings.
"The biggest challenge is probably just figuring out what to do," Johnson said. "The first time I got the playbook was Monday – same as everybody, across the board. It's going to be a challenge learning what to do, working with a new quarterback and hearing his cadence. You get used to something for five years and then you come in a different situation and they say the cadence. I think all of that is going to be a challenge."
Johnson's acclimation to his new teammates goes both ways. Steve Hutchinson hasn't played the Colts often, but has seen plenty of film on Johnson via game film of the Colts and opponents that were on the Vikings' schedule in previous years and said he likes what he has seen in Johnson's ability.
"I don't know a lot [about Johnson], but we've watch some Indy film in the past," Hutchinson said. "I know that Charlie along with the rest of that line are a very smart group. You've got to be when Peyton's calling all the plays at the line of scrimmage. You've got to be able to make snap decisions. I think he's a very good player with great feet, from what I remember in watching the film, so I'm looking forward to working with him."
Johnson said that learning from an improvisational genius like Manning, who changes plays at the line of scrimmage and alters protection schemes with one "hot word," was invaluable to his career of having to make blocking decisions on the fly. McNabb is also known as an improviser, so Johnson said the techniques he learned in a Manning-run offense will translate to a McNabb-run offense.
"There's going to be a lot of carryover," Johnson said. "Obviously, they're both great quarterbacks. Donovan may be a little more mobile than Peyton, but just having the experience with Peyton is going to help with a veteran, experienced quarterback like Donovan."
Johnson knows he has big shoes (literally) to fill, but said all he can do is be his own man. He won't be McKinnie, just as McKinnie wasn't Steussie, Steussie wasn't Zimmerman, Zimmerman wasn't Riley and Riley wasn't Alderman. He's just the next guy in line and hopes that he can continue the track of players that preceded him and not be one of the handful of one-hit wonders in between the franchise left tackles that have marked the Vikings' history.
"I'm just going to go out and play the way I know how to play and the way I've played the last five years," Johnson said. "I've had some success. I can't think about replacing someone. I just have to think about what I do."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.