New Punter an Insurance Policy

The Vikings essentially bought an insurance policy on Mitch Berger when they signed punter Lee Johnson yesterday, according to the new punter himself.

With punter Mitch Berger ailing because of a fractured bone in his neck he suffered while making a tackle against the Titans, veteran Lee Johnson was signed yesterday. Berger, who also kicks off and holds on field goals, wanted to play in Sunday's game against the Lions, but was still in obvious pain as he walked around the Vikings' Winter Park complex Wednesday.

Johnson, 40, is the all-time leader in NFL history for career punts (1,187) and yardage (50,473). He has a career punting average of 42.5 yards and has played in 253 games during his 17-year career. Johnson played five games with the Patriots this season and had 24 punts for 1,045 yards (43.5 average) before being released on Oct. 15.

Like Berger, he also can kick off and is regarded as one of the better holders in the business.

Johnson and Berger's paths crossed before, when both were with the Bengals.

"He was in Cincinnati with me and we competed there," Johnson said. "Mitch came in late, very similar to this. But this is certainly not that type of situation. The guy's numbers obviously speak for themselves. He's a fantastic punter, one of my favorite punters. I'm shocked they kept me (in Cincinnati).

"This is merely a fill-in role and odds are I'll just be here sitting on my butt on Sunday."

Johnson was originally selected by Houston out of Brigham Young in the fifth round of the 1985 draft. He has played for the Oilers (1985-87), Browns (1987-88), Bengals (1988-98) and Patriots (1999-2001). His stay in Minnesota figures to be short, and once Berger is ready, look for Johnson to return to the unemployment line.

The Vikings made room on their roster for Johnson by placing defensive tackle Willie Howard on injured reserve. Howard suffered ligament damage in his knee and a broken leg in the Tennessee game.

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