Last year was a disappointing one for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Charles Johnson. There were a lot of high expectations surrounding him and he began the season as one of the two starters. He held down the spot for the first three games of the season, but then had to miss the next three weeks, including the bye week, because of a rib injury.
Even after he returned, Johnson only got one more start over the remainder of the season (Week 13) and a big part of that was because of the emergence of Stefon Diggs. It was hard for Johnson to sit out all that time because he wanted to be out on the field helping his team.
“It sucks being injured,” he began. “You never want to be on the sideline and then you see your guys excelling and doing big things, but you’re not contributing. You’re just on the sidelines kind of cheering like a fan. For me, I don’t want to be a fan. I want to go out there and contribute, whether it’s one play or 20 plays. I want to go out there and be able to give my part, so me being on the sideline with an injury, I can’t do that. That’s frustrating for me because it’s something I really want to be a part of, going out there and helping my team win games, and I just couldn’t do it last year.”
The hardest part for Johnson during the 2015 season was trying not to be selfish and think about what is best for the team. He wanted to be out on the field, and knew he could still contribute - just look at the 35-yard reception he had against the Chicago Bears that led to the game-winning field goal.
Even though he still showed some flashes, there just didn’t seem to be a spot for him on the field. It went as far as him being listed as inactive during the final three games of the season and the one playoff game.
“That’s the hard part. It’s kind of bittersweet,” Johnson said about trying not to be selfish. “You like to see your team winning, but you also want to be out there and that’s what comes with it. It was super frustrating for me because I want to be out there, but hey, my team was rolling and we were winning games. That’s the biggest thing, that’s the most important thing, and as long as we’re winning I’m happy. But a little thing inside of me says I want to be out there and know I should be out there. It was kind of frustrating for me because I knew I should be out there, but circumstances happen and we end end up playing well that season.”
The coaching staff decided to move Diggs over to the flanker position this offseason after they parted ways with Mike Wallace, which means the split-end position was once again open for Johnson. He was given the starting job during organized team activities and has held onto it thus far through training camp.
It didn’t come as a surprise to him that the coaches gave him the first-team reps in OTAs because it was what he expected. Those reps may not stay around forever, though, as he has the Vikings’ first-round draft pick, Laquon Treadwell, breathing down his neck and already starting to cut into his reps, but he doesn’t seem worried.
The fact that Treadwell was a first-round pick means nothing to him. He needs a guy to prove his worth out on the field if they are hoping to earn his respect.
“There’s an undrafted guy in Adam Thielen behind me, there’s an undrafted guy in Isaac Fruechte behind me,” he began. “Just because you’re a draft pick doesn’t mean you can play in this league. It doesn’t matter which round you were drafted in. Example, Stefon Diggs, fifth round, comes in and balls. What round someone was drafted in means nothing to me. It’s what you go out there and show me on the field. That’s what’s going to earn my respect. Other than that, I don’t look over my shoulder for anyone. If you’re looking back, you’re looking in the past. I’m looking forward and looking in the future. People going to chase me, I’m not out here chasing anybody, so that’s how I approach each day.”
With Treadwell quickly improving during training camp, Johnson could be looking at a similar situation to last year, where he loses his snaps to a young receiver the Vikings just brought in. He’s doing his best to make sure that doesn’t happen again and has been having a good camp so far. It could be interesting to see what happens if his role gets limited, though, because he says their is no way he’s letting the coaches take him off the field.
“Only way they going to get me off the field is if I’m hurt,” he said, “straight up.”