A year ago, Minnesota Vikings fans didn’t know much about Tom Johnson, but he’s beginning to change that.
Last year, he responded in a big way as part of the defensive line rotation. Linval Joseph and Sharrif Floyd were the starters, but Johnson finished second on the team in sacks. He did his job at a high level, making the most of the number of snaps he had as players were learning Mike Zimmer’s defensive system on the fly.
“Last year we had a bunch of guys that were in the first year seeing the scheme,” Johnson said. “It was also the first time a lot of the guys were playing together. You had Everson taking over outside, you had me and Linval that were new coming in and Sharrif was learning a new system for the second time in two years. I think everybody is more familiar with each other and knows where everybody will be at. I think that allows us to play faster and not have to think as much.”
It seemed clear from the outset that Johnson could be an underrated free agent signing.
With Floyd sidelined with knee and ankle injuries last week, Johnson has been asked to take on a larger role with the defense and Zimmer has received what he expected.
“He’s really doing exactly what we anticipated him doing,” Zimmer said. “He’s just getting more reps. I thought he did a good job in the running game last week. He’s pretty much been the same guy all the way along.”
Johnson’s role with the defense has been one that has been expanding over time.
“I’m just trying to be as consistent as possible,” Johnson said. “A lot of that has to do with being comfortable with the scheme and the people around me. The expectation of the coaches is that they’re going to put you in position to make plays. I’m just trying to dominate my man and work hard. If you do that good things will happen.”
Defensive coordinator George Edwards has also been impressed with how Johnson has taken to his part-time role and improved his game to the point that he doesn’t believe there will be a big drop-off in production while Floyd is on the mend.
Asked if he believes Johnson has grown as a player in his second year as a Viking, Edwards said his role has increased by design with an eventuality like the Floyd injury being a possibility that would require Johnson to take a more active role in the defense.
“No doubt about it,” Edwards said. “Just even from last year, the production he was able to put in last year. His time has increased, he played a lot in the preseason and that’s something that carried over. We’ve (given) him more reps per game than we did last year. I think he’s used to it. He stepped in and did a nice job for us last week and we look forward to him just keep continuing to progress.”
Johnson and Floyd are two very different players. Johnson has more slipperiness and quickness of the snap. Floyd has more raw power. Those differences are ideally offset when they play in tandem – giving opposing offenses a different look from one play to the next.
His value to the team has taken on heightened importance with Floyd being out, but it doesn’t change Johnson’s attitude toward his job. Whether it’s part-time or full-time, permanent or temporary, Johnson isn’t going to change – even when it comes to never being satisfied with his job performance.
“I’m my worst critic,” Johnson said. “I feel each game that there are a few plays I would like to have back. I’m always trying to get better every week and hit my goals that I’m shooting for. I’m just looking to be consistent and be a player that my teammates and coaches can count on to do his job. I keep looking to get better every week and if I can do that, I believe I can help our team keep winning games.”