It's been since the middle of the 2002 season that the Vikings have had someone other than Bryant McKinnie line up as their regular left tackle – a position briefly glamorized by the Sandra Bullock Oscar vehicle The Blind Side. On Sunday, Charlie Johnson becomes Donovan McNabb's blind-side protector.
While he's new to the Vikings, he isn't new to the mindset that head coach Leslie Frazier brings to the Vikings. Frazier, whom the Vikings hired away from the Indianapolis Colts to become their defensive coordinator, was brought to the Colts organization by Tony Dungy. Dungy was as effective a coach as the NFL has seen in the modern era and did it without being a demonstrative in-your-face "whistle-and-scream" type.
Johnson said one of the easiest parts of his transition from the Colts to the Vikings has been Frazier's demeanor. It seems familiar, which, given the critical nature of his new job description, has made things markedly more comfortable for one of the Vikings' most vital acquisitions of the offseason.
"There are similarities," Johnson said of the Colts' and Vikings' systems. "[Frazier] is not a big ‘rah-rah' yell guy. He's going to get his point across in a different manner and a different tone. I think that approach is unique and it also helps, because you know you're not going to get yelled at. We're going to correct the problem. We're going to fix it. But we have every confidence in you that you will get better and things will get right."
Johnson wasn't a long-term, well-planned option to be the Vikings' left tackle. When McKinnie showed up at Winter Park following the lockout dangerously out of shape, the Vikings made a tough and important decision. Johnson was in. McKinnie was out. In the span of 24 hours, the Vikings went from expressing no significant interest to Johnson or his agent to signing him to a contract.
His transition was profound. He had to pull up stakes in Indianapolis and move his family to the Twin Cities. He has learned the neighborhood essentially by Braille – "discovering" restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores as he gets more familiar with his new surroundings. What's the hardest part?
"It's all of the above," Johnson said. "When you spend five-plus years in one place, you get comfortable. You only have one playbook. You always go back to the same house. You know your way around town. For the most part, you're playing with the same group of guys. There's a comfort level that obviously changes when you move on. You're uprooting your family. There are new teammates. There's a new playbook. It's a new scheme. We're approaching things different from what I'm used to. It's a new group of guys that have been together for awhile. They have a comfort zone with each other and you're the new guy coming and try to fit in with them."
As difficult as being the new kid in class can be, Johnson has made a positive early impression on his teammates. Steve Hutchinson said that he has acclimated himself ideally for a new player coming into a new locker room.
"Charlie's one of the more popular guys on the offensive line in the short time he's been here," Hutchinson said. "Everybody loves his personality and it's like he's been here forever. He fits in with everybody, so everybody's really pleased to have him."
As Johnson gets himself familiarized with the Twin Cities, he said the new journey has actually helped his game as a whole. With his world turned upside down, the only thing that remains familiar in his memory is practicing for the next game. Winter Park has become the eye of his hurricane. Things are comfortable. They're normal – during a last two months that have been anything but normal for Johnson and his family.
"The end result is that the only thing you focus on is football," Johnson said. "There are some outside distractions moving to a new town, but the focus is showing up at the facility every day, getting ready to work out or practice or games and basically going home at the end of the day and starting the process all over again. If anything, I think your focus is more on football because it's the only thing in your life that remains familiar. It's the only constant. Everything outside of football takes care of itself."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Amid changes, Johnson focused on football
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