He's Got Leg

Eddie Johnson is the first punter the Vikings have drafted since 1978, and he showed flashes in spring camps of why the Vikings wanted to break their 25-year drafting drought at the position.

This year, the Vikings' air attack added another weapon and it has nothing to do with the receivers. A few consistent games for punter Eddie Johnson, booming what he showed he had potential for during spring camps, and Vikings fans can add Johnson to the list of young talent in purple.

Johnson's performance in minicamp and subsequent developmental camps wasn't always consistent -- he had a few wobble on him -- but when he gets the ball in a tight spiral he is capable of hitting the 60-yard mark and getting hang time.

From our observations, Johnson has a chance to be better than Mitch Berger and has a personality that could make him a fan favorite.

But consistency will be the key to avoid the blocked punt and the occasional oops. Once special teams coach Rusty Tillman saw Johnson's mechanics in minicamp, the two discussed a more efficient routine for the rookie punter.

"It's just a slight fraction of a second pause (they are working to eliminate)," Johnson said. "I'm just going to work on stepping into the ball and moving the whole time, so there's no wasted movement -- there's no dead time."

Working on his technique, he says, will turn the occasional 30-yard flutter into consistently booming the 50- and 60-yarders that he showed he is capable of during camps. Last year, the Vikings averaged 39.3 yards per punt. In 2001, Johnson led the college ranks with a 46.3-yard average with a season long of 66 yards.

In minicamp, he was kicking while dealing with painful back spasms.

"I just strained it and overworked it," he said. "It just spassed up on me really bad. I tried to do too much in minicamp, I tried to get after it. You know, what am I supposed to do? It's my first minicamp and the Vikings just drafted me, which says a lot to me. … I just felt real fortunate to be here, so when I had the opportunity and I was a little hurt I still busted it and went through with it."

His gratitude over being selected by a team that hadn't drafted a punter since the ninth round in 1978 shows.

"I couldn't help but smile getting on and coming off the plane and getting into the hotel," he said of preparing for his first minicamp with the Vikings. "I was just smiling 24/7. Once you get out here, though, it's the same deal, the same team atmosphere that you're used to from high school and college. That's kind of relaxing."

Johnson knows "just happy to be here" won't get it done. Instead, he will rely on what has carried him to this point -- his strong leg.

"I played soccer for six years as a kid and I've always had a real strong leg," he said. "It seems like I've always had a strong leg, whether it's playing kickball on the beach with my buddies or playing soccer."

Now, however, he will need to concentrate on consistency and the key statistic for NFL punters -- net average.

"You're still kicking the football, but your room for error is obviously a lot less," he said of the pro game. "Your net is a lot more important than your gross. A lot of guys care about gross in college."

Johnson punted and also handled kickoffs in high school and his senior year of college, but "for some reason fell out of kickoffs out of high school in junior college." It could have been because of an ankle injury from basketball, but after the field goal kicker at Idaho State left after Johnson's junior year, Johnson started practicing kickoffs again. If he wins that job, the potential for touchbacks is back in the arsenal for Vikings special teams. Last year Hayden Epstein, who is coming back from knee surgery, had 10 touchbacks for the Vikings while the NFC leader, Atlanta's Jay Feely, had 16, and Johnson could have a shot to eclipse that.

By the time training camp is done, Johnson could be pulling triple duty on special teams -- punting, kicking off and holding for field goals.

"I'm going to compete with the other field goal kickers, and I'm always going to work on (kickoffs) in practice," he said. "Whoever gets the start on that, only time will tell."


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