For a lot of players, getting such news would be thrilling – much less a player whose early career was derailed by injuries like Johnson’s. But prior to Thursday afternoon’s practice, Johnson answered questions about the announcement like a seasoned veteran, saying that being the starter in the Vikings’ system isn’t anything more than being on the field for the first few scripted snaps.
“The way things operate around here, we rotate at receiver,” Johnson said. “It’s cool to get your name thrown out there on the first play, but what does it really mean? We go there and we all work together. We’re all a unit. We’re just going to go out there and give it the best we can each and every play.”
Few players have seen their numbers in terms of playing time spike as much as Johnson’s. He didn’t see action until Week 5 and, prior to the bye week, was never on the field for 30 percent of the offensive snaps. Since then, the landscape has changed considerably.
A lot has changed over the last two games for Johnson. Much was made about Cordarrelle Patterson being on the field for just three offensive snaps in Sunday’s win over Carolina. What was just as stunning is that Johnson has been on the field for all but three snaps in the last two games – lining up for 116 of the team’s 119 offensive plays.
Asked if he was surprised how quickly he has ascended the depth chart and became a go-to receiver in the Vikings offense, Johnson believes he has earned his spot through dedication and hard work and has been cautiously optimistic that what has taken place would happen.
“Surprised? No,” Johnson said. “I’ve worked hard to get to where I’m at. I was slowed with injuries my first year. My ability, I know what I can do on and off the field.”
One of the most immediate things that has been noticeable is that Johnson and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater have built an almost instant rapport with one another. Johnson has been targeted more than any other receiver the last two weeks by a pretty significant margin, and he acknowledged that he and Bridgewater are on the same page and it shows – both on the field and in practice.
“Any quarterback and receiver, you want to get in a groove and be able to connect when you can,” Johnson said. “We’ve just got to get better each and every week and we’ve all got to connect with Teddy.”
Having bounced around from Green Bay to Cleveland to the Vikings in the last 18 months, Johnson has seen three different offenses and several different quarterbacks along the way. As someone with the ability to judge the strengths and weaknesses of the QBs he has played with, he thinks there is a lot to like about Bridgewater, especially his field awareness.
Asked what quality he likes best about Teddy, Johnson had an immediate answer.
“His anticipation,” Johnson said. “He throws with a lot of anticipation, so he doesn’t have to put so much zip it on the ball. It makes it easier for receivers to catch. He throws his receivers open. I think that’s great.”
His signing with the Vikings wasn’t merely a coincidence. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner held the same job with the Browns last year when the team claimed Johnson off the Green Bay practice squad. He and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner both have a strong admiration for Johnson and what he is cable of. They aren’t always easy on him. In fact, Norv is rarely complimentary on the practice field, but he gets the most out of Johnson, who gets motivated by the occasional barbs thrown his way.
“I love Norv,” Johnson said. “He’s going to be on you while you’re on the field – gonna be on your butt – then he’s going to love you when you’re off. He’s a great guy and I look forward to working with him more and more in the future. He’s always on me. He can get under your skin sometimes, but he’s a great guy and he does it out of the kindness of his heart because he wants everybody to get better. He gets on all of us. I think he’s going to be great for us here.”
Through an injury-plagued rookie season and the lack of a chance to fully show what he is capable of, Johnson is looking to take the fullest advantage of the opportunity that has presented itself with the 2014 Vikings and is thankful he is finally getting his shot to show his coaches, teammates and the rest of the league what he can do to help make the Vikings more of a big-play offense.
“It’s good,” Johnson said of the recent recognition he has been receiving. “I’m not a guy who really cares too much about the fame. I just like to go out and play football. What I like to do is play. It just feels good to be healthy and be able to get out there and actually get to play.”
Despite Johnson’s emergence, Zimmer said Patterson has had a good week of practice.
“Cordarrelle’s had a good week of practice. He’s busting his rear end,” Zimmer said. “He’s doing everything good, so I’m hopeful that he does some good things in this game.”