Johnson Still Has That Fresh Feeling

Quarterback Brad Johnson hasn't avoided the sack any more than Daunte Culpepper was able to in his action before injury, but Johnson says his body still feels good. Plus, get news and quotes on running back Ciatrick Fason, guards Toniu Fonoti and Anthony Herrera and the defense.

Quarterback Brad Johnson hasn't put up the yardage – or interceptions – that Daunte Culpepper did before he got hurt, but one thing the two quarterbacks have in common is getting sacked. Each has been sacked an average of roughly four times per game this season.

Culpepper took 31 sacks in 6-1/2 games. But after taking 14 sacks and numerous other hits in 3-1/2 games of action, Johnson is no worse for the wear.

"I feel very fresh right now. My legs feel fresh, my arm feels fresh," Johnson said. "We've played against some very good defensive fronts and some good teams. A lot of the sacks become coverage sacks. We try to take some shots and sometimes you have to hold onto the ball for that extra count."

Johnson's completion percentage is 57.1 with a 5.7-yard average per pass attempt, while Culpepper completed 64.4 percent of his passes for a 7.24-yard average before his season ended with three torn ligaments in his knee. But the stat that matters most: Johnson is 3-0 since becoming the starter.

The Vikings have won four of their last five games and three in a row, including two on the road outdoors. After starting the season 1-4 and climbing back to 5-5, Minnesota remains two games behind the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears.

Still, for all of their recent success, Johnson is not about to assume they are on their way.

"It's not over. We've got a lot of football to play. I was part of a team that was 8-2 back in '97 and we ended up 9-7," he said of first stint with the Vikings. "Crazy things happen in this league. You look at Oakland three years ago when they went to the Super Bowl, they were 4-0, went 4-4 and then made a run. However you get the wins, you get the wins. Hopefully you get off to a hot start – we didn't and hopefully we can finish strong now."


Last week, running back Ciatrick Fason was visibly and audibly depressed when he didn't play as much as he was expecting against the New York Giants. It was the first game since Moe Williams was placed on injured reserve, and Fason was expecting to be the Vikings' short-yardage back.

"Moe gets in on short-yardage and everybody says I've got the Moe Williams role," Fason said.

Last week it was frowns. This week it was smiles as he recounted his 1-yard touchdown run on Monday Night Football against the Green Bay Packers.

"We ran the (same play the) first play. The first time they shifted and the second time they didn't shift," Fason said of his dive over left guard. "We gave them the same exact look, but we knew that they thought it was going to be a play-action. Richard (Owens) just made a hole and I ran through it."

The first play came when Toniu Fonoti was in the game, the second one with Anthony Herrera at left guard when Fonoti injured his groin on the first play.

"If you watch Herrera, he played with a lot of passion. He's going to be real aggressive and do whatever it takes to get the win," Fason said. "I told him before the game that he was going to get his shot, just be ready. When he got the opportunity, he told me to run behind him and he was going to get me into the end zone."

Now, with the short-yardage role seemingly secured, Fason is hoping to take the next step sometime in the near future. Eventually, he would like a crack at the featured back role, just like he worked into being the leading rusher at the University of Florida by his junior season.

"Little roles lead to big roles. Getting your first couple of carries can lead to getting a lot of carries," he said.


Head coach Mike Tice all but ruled out Fonoti playing on Sunday after the guard, who was acquired last month in a trade with San Diego, injured his left groin at Lambeau Field.

Fonoti said his conditioning and lack of playing time because of a broken bone in his hand may have had something to do with the groin injury.

"Game situations are a lot different from practice, just some of the steps and some of the technique that I had to do probably had to be a little bit longer in a game situation than in practice. It probably had something to do with it," he said.

"I didn't play for five or six weeks (because of the hand injury), so just being able to come back and play with these guys, a bunch of brand new guys, was fun. It was something I was looking forward to."

Despite being labeled "a beast" most of last week by Tice, Fonoti is humble about his game.

"I've got to work on my passing game, I've got to work on my running game. I'm never, ever going to tell you I'm solid, I'm perfect," he said.

Fonoti's replacement, Herrera, said he was generally pleased with his performance.

"I thought I did OK. Once I got into it, I just took my first hit and then I was alright," Herrera said of his most extensive action in the NFL.

Now he is slated to make his first start at left guard against Cleveland on Sunday.

"They've got a defensive head coach (Romeo Crennel), so they're going to be ready on defense. They're going to have a good game plan," Herrera said.


The consensus among Vikings defenders is that the improved defense is due in part to better communication. Players and coaches had been saying all offseason and early in the season that they expected it might take awhile for the defense to jell.

After solid performances against Detroit, the Giants and Green Bay in successive weeks, they feel the early-season miscommunications should be a thing of the past.

"The defense has been communicating over the last three or four weeks, so I think that's been the key to our victories," defensive end Erasmus James said. "We expected to play like that in the first game, but we weren't all on the same page. Now that we're all on the same page, everyone can see the talent and the leadership that we have on the team."


Former Vikings linebacker Nick Rogers likely will get activated for the first time this season for his new Miami Dolphins team against Oakland in light of Zach Thomas' shoulder injury. A four-year NFL veteran who also has played with Indianapolis, Rogers was inactive for all but one game since being signed October 19.

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