Charles Johnson had a bit of a breakout season in 2014, working his way into the starting lineup by late November and starting the final six games of the season when he wasn’t even with the Minnesota Vikings at the start of the season.
Johnson spent much of 2013 with the Cleveland Browns, but an ACL injury allowed him to only watch and learn Norv Turner’s offense there. But when the Browns placed Johnson on their practice squad, the Vikings signed him to their active roster on Sept. 20 and he began his ascent into NFL relevancy.
He wasn’t with the Vikings for the first two games of the season, was inactive for the next two and then played in five of the six ensuing games before being named a starter in place of 2013 first-round draft pick Cordarrelle Patterson.
Johnson, however, didn’t take much time off when the Vikings’ season was over. He wanted to make 2014 just the beginning of his upward curve instead of the peak.
He was part of the California workouts organized by Teddy Bridgewater and hosted by Kyle Rudolph.
“It was just good to get together as teammates even though we were away from each other for a little while. It was good to go out there and have a little fun and also get some great work in,” Johnson said. “It was a different type of work. It was a type of work that I hadn’t been exposed to and I think we got a little bit of a connection out there and could just be around one another and work as a unit.”
While one of the focuses of that time together was on building camaraderie off the field with mostly players that had only spent one year together, Johnson didn’t let that be his only exposure to football work in the down months of January, February and March. He took it upon himself to work with the man known as the “Footwork King,” Rischad Whitfield, in Houston.
“He works with a lot of NFL guys,” Johnson said. “I was out there with DeVier Posey, Boom Herron, the running back for the Texans, Emannuel Sanders was out there, Antonio Brown was out there. I believe Mike Wallace was out there, but I didn’t get to see him when I was out there but he told me he was out there. A lot of guys were telling me he’s good at what he does. He’s called the Footwork King for a reason.”
Whitfield has also worked with Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins and running backs like LeGarrette Blount and Jonathan Stewart.
Johnson’s focus has been on improving several aspects of his game now that he is more than a year removed from his ACL injury.
“My focus this offseason was to go out there and get high balls because I wasn’t as comfortable as I should have been last year because I was coming off an ACL,” he said. “That’s one of my main focuses, and work a little bit of footwork because I am a bigger guy, so bigger guys typically don’t have as good of feet as smaller, shiftier guys so I worked that a lot. Just being in the playbook and trying to master my skills.”
Even if Johnson was a little raw in his technique and limited in his playing time for most of the first half of the season, he still managed 31 catches for 475 yards and two touchdowns. His catch total ranked fifth on the team, his yardage fourth and his touchdown receptions tied for second, but his 15.3 yards per catch was best on the team.
Still, Johnson believes there is another speedster, Wallace, that will really help the offense this year.
“He’s a huge talent, very fast,” Johnson said of the 6-foot, 200-pounder that the Vikings traded for in the offseason. “When we’ve been out here (at offseason conditioning), I would just watch him move and you can tell he’s extremely fast and I think he’s going to be a good asset for our team, a good addition, and we look forward to playing with one another. I think he’s going to help us win a lot of games around here. Having that guy when you line up and you know he’s fast, it’s only going to help open up things for the running backs and everybody else.”
The passing offense that ranked only 28th in the league last year should also benefit from players being in their second season in Turner’s offense.
“I think it’s going to be pretty good,” Johnson said. “Norv emphasized at the end of last season that Year 2 is usually better for everybody to collectively excel in this offense and that’s what we’re looking for as an offensive unit is to really have that first year under our belt and now this second year to move forward and really master.”
‘Footwork King’ should help Johnson’s ascent
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