Johnson's Health Is Key

The Vikings enter the 2006 season with high hopes to return to the NFL playoffs. But, with the depth the team has added at several positions in the offseason, the one that remains frighteningly thin is quarterback.

Two days after the Vikings open their 2006 regular season, quarterback Brad Johnson will celebrate his 38th birthday. In most instances, a 38-year-old quarterback has been in retirement and hitting the golf course for a few years.

Johnson is the elder statesmen of all NFL quarterbacks. He's a year older than Brett Favre, two years older than Mark Brunell and Trent Green, three-and-a-half years older than Drew Bledsoe, four years older than Kurt Warner and four-and-a-half years older than Steve McNair.

But the difference between those other players and Johnson is that their respective teams have set themselves up to move on and prepare for the future -- even if that future comes in Week 2 if one of the other aging QBs goes down to injury.

The Vikings haven't made that same sort of commitment. Tarvaris Jackson, by the admission of almost everyone on the coaching and scouting staff, is a couple of years away from being ready to be a full-time starter and that doesn't come with any guarantee. Mike McMahon knows the system, but hasn't shown much in the way of being a success on the field with either the Lions or Eagles during his career. And J.T. O'Sullivan is fighting for a roster spot.

The Vikings brought in Johnson a little more than a year ago to serve as a veteran backup to Daunte Culpepper. A year later, Johnson looks to be the only show in town. The Vikes have had a history of bringing in veteran backups with a lot of starting experience in the event of an injury at quarterback. Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Bubby Brister, Gus Frerotte and Johnson are all recent examples of this. But, for now, the Vikings don't have one of those players to back up Johnson.

It's clear that the Vikings have confidence in Johnson, who led the team to a 7-2 record as a starter upon replacing the injured Culpepper. But the question many people are asking is how long can a 38-year-old quarterback hold up under the rigors of another NFL season?

For the Vikings' sake, it had better be at least one more because Plan B is going to have to include a quarterback with minimal game success or no game experience. If Johnson goes down, so may the Vikings' hopes to return to the playoffs, so keeping him protected and healthy will likely be Job One for several players on the Vikings offense.

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