Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson’s career has been revitalized since he signed with the team back in 2014. And it got an even bigger lift last season when he was responsible for starting in a career-high eight games due to injuries suffered by multiple interior defenders.
He said that it was definitely the most snaps he has ever played in his career and he was able to record a career-high 36 tackles, while also adding 5.5 sacks and a pass defensed. He recorded a career-high in sacks the year prior with 6.5.
In total, Johnson has recorded 58 tackles, 12 sacks and one pass defensed during his two years with the Vikings. Compare that to the 55 tackles and five sacks that he recorded with the New Orleans Saints from 2011-13. He also recorded 42 tackles and seven sacks playing in the Canadian Football League from 2009-10.
Johnson’s career has taken a turn for the better since joining the Vikings and the team’s defensive coordinator, George Edwards, says a big reason why is he has just bought into the coaching.
“I think Tom came in and bought into what it is we were trying to teach,” Edwards began. “Paid attention to the detail, understood what we’re asking from him from a position standpoint. Knowing what his abilities were and he comes out here every day to get the most out of his abilities. He’s got in there at three-technique, probably not as big as some of the other three-techniques that we have. But with this technique and with his fundamentals, understanding what people are trying to do to him, he’s got a good chance to go out there and be successful from snap to snap.”
Johnson doesn’t like to take all the credit for his new-found success, though. He gives a lot of credit to the players around him and to his coaching staff. Every team will always focus on the fundamentals of positions, but Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson has been able to teach Johnson some things that have helped utilize his strengths.
The primary focus has seemed to be utilizing his speed and quickness off the snap. He has the ability to close in on the offensive linemen quickly and that has led to him being able to use his athleticism to get by them easier and more frequently.
“He’s brought a lot out of me,” Johnson said of Patterson. “As in different angles, staying on track, me having new ways to use my speed in a way that I’ve never used it. To close the gap, get on the offensive lineman fast, different types of footwork that helps you out turning the corner. It’s not that big of a difference with what you do with every team, the main picture is always the same. It’s always the small, intricate details that makes a big difference at the end of the day. And I think Dre was one of those guys that got the most out of me.”
Having the coaches show confidence in him since his arrival in Minnesota also has meant a lot to Johnson. He said that confidence is very contagious out on the football field. He feels as though he starts to play even better when the coaching staff is giving him praise and more playing time.
Johnson’s primary role with the team is as an interior pass-rushing specialist that will come in on passing downs to give some of the starters a break. But he was forced to play as a full-time defensive tackle last season when Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen were out with injuries.
He also got a lot of first-team reps this offseason during organized team activities and minicamp when Joseph and Sharrif Floyd sat out as they continued to get over some lingering injuries. Johnson cherished those extra reps against the first-team offensive lines, whether it be his teammates in practice or opponents in a game.
Going up against those starters helped him improve his game because he needed to clean up on all his fundamentals even more in order to succeed.
“You always like to go against good talent, the best talent around,” he explained. “You get better work, you work on the small things, as in a half step here to a bigger step, hands not extended type of stuff that will work on a guy who’s not as talented. So you’re able to elevate your game and put in a little more work.”
Johnson had the chance to work out down in Houston, Tex. with a number of other NFL players - including teammate Adrian Peterson - this offseason. He still feels great, healthy and is continuously looking to increase his role in the Vikings defense.