Lance Johnstone has one more year of experience in the NFL than nose tackle Pat Williams, but Johnstone's role with the Vikings often goes unnoticed. Maybe it's because he is a specialist whose name appeared on the starting list only once in 2005. Maybe it's because he isn't part of the growing long-term future of the defensive line with so many recent high draft picks emerging at the position.
Whatever the reason, Johnstone has no problem returning to the Vikings for another season if the team wants him back.
"You've got to look around, but I have no problems with coming back here," Johnstone said. "It's not like I'm one of those people that can't wait to get out of here."
His production this season would indicate he still has something left to offer. He played in all but one game – a shoulder injury kept him out of that one – and he ended up as the Vikings' leading sacker for the third consecutive season. This year, Johnstone had 7.5 sacks and 35 tackles, including seven in the season finale. The previous two seasons he produced double-digit sacks.
His ultimate goal is to break the 100-sack barrier, which might mean another four years in the league. He has 70 career sacks now, but he certainly isn't about to worry about his future too much no matter who the Vikings pursue in the free agency or the draft.
"I've seen guys here say things … when they go to draft somebody or bring somebody in or move somebody in front of you and they start getting caught up in that as opposed to just working on what you do, get better at it and fall into place," Johnstone said. "You take a person like C.J. Mosley, coming in here and playing behind Pat and Kevin (Williams) and you start talking yourself out of why you probably won't play and then you're starting in a couple of games. Things can happen like that, and if you're not working on your craft then you can get lost. I don't try to figure that stuff out.
"One thing I've figured out being around this is that you can't figure it out. A lot of people speculate and try to, but you've just got to let everything play itself out. My focus has always been getting better at what I do and let everything else fall the way it may."
As a 10-year veteran of the league, he has shown persistence and durability. Part of the reason for his longevity is that the Vikings made the move a few years ago to limit his role to a pass-rushing specialist instead of having him wear down by playing every snap. That took his playing time down from 40-some snaps a game to 20 or 25 snaps, keeping him fresh and more effective when they needed him most.
He has also learned to pace himself throughout the season. He said that's a trait older guys learn.
"You know the pace of the season so you're not wasting a lot of energy to get through the practices," he said. "The game, you've got to go full speed. Then you've got to take care of your body, get into a little routine where you're not letting stuff compile."
So far, it has all worked out for Johnstone, but now the Vikings must decide what – if anything – they want out of him next season. He has signed two one-year deals with the Vikings before, and that's another possibility. He said the two sides had some contract communication last offseason but not once the season started.
Either way, he feels like the Vikings have what it takes to return to the playoffs.
"The talent level is there. A lot of the teams that do well are the teams that can keep that nucleus together, and that's hard in free agency these days," he said. "I think we've definitely got the talent and the capabilities for pushing for the playoffs every year."
Johnstone Talks about Free Agency
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