Johnson Eager to Showcase Talents

Wide receiver Bethel Johnson might be used as a kick returner this Sunday in Seattle, but he'd like to show off his speed in other areas as well. Find out what Johnson had to say and keep up with several former Vikings around the league.

Bethel Johnson is not among elite company when it comes to trying out for the Vikings, who have worked out 15 wide receivers since the beginning of September, but the Oct. 3 workout turned into employment for Johnson one week later.

Twelve days from his signing, Johnson could be active and making contributions to the Vikings' effort to hand the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks their second loss of the season on Sunday.

"We're getting him up to speed as fast as we can (on offense) and he's doing a nice job running around out here," Vikings coach Brad Childress said of Johnson. "We just have to continue to bring him along, give him what we think that he can handle. We've got to make sure that he knows where to go, (that) he knows the adjustments to make when things are going full speed. The other guys have the advantage of having all those reps on those specific plays, but we'll have some plays where we can get him in there."

Said Johnson, who spent the bye trying to learn the offense: "I'm learning it pretty well. It's just when they start adding twists and stuff, I've got to know all that. I'm comfortable with it now, but I want to be extremely comfortable with it real soon."

While he might have only a limited number of plays, if any, that he runs on offense on Sunday, Johnson could be the team's main kick returner. That's the role he has performed most often in his previous three seasons in the league with the New England Patriots.

He was originally a second-round draft choice of the New England Patriots in 2003, then traded to the New Orleans Saints during the 2006 off-season. After a training camp injury to his knee, he became healthy enough to work out earlier this month.

Johnson, who said he has "around 4.2" speed in the 40-yard dash, claims the medial collateral ligament he sprained in his knee on Aug. 26 won't affect his speed. "I'm always at (that speed). That's a gift from God. I can wake up and do that anytime," he said.

Of course, speed doesn't automatically translate into success returning kicks. The Vikings' Troy Williamson has similar speed. While Williamson's 23.3-yard average is respectable, he hasn't appeared to be close to truly breaking one for a touchdown and hasn't seemed all that thrilled with his dual role of returning kicks while trying to be a No. 1 threat as a receiver on offense.

However, special teams coach Paul Ferraro doesn't agree with that observation.

"I've never gotten the feeling that he hasn't wanted to do it," Ferraro said. "He's one of the first in my meetings, he studies tape, he asks questions and he has a great attitude in practice. I've never felt that way."

But the Vikings' signing of Johnson indicates they would like to see Williamson concentrate on offense, although he continued to work on kick returns in practice this week.



Johnson is far more experienced in that department. He has returned 102 kickoffs for 2,557 yards (25.1-yard average) and two touchdowns in his three years with the Patriots.

"They've been preparing me to play this week. That's what they brought me in for, they didn't bring me in to sit around," Johnson said. "They pay you to be a football player and you've just got to go out there and do what they ask you to do. That's what they pay you for."

Johnson believes he can be a good receiver as well as a solid kick returner, but his best success was in his rookie season, when he returned 30 kicks for an average of 28.2 yards. However, his average started to decline over the next two seasons – to 24.8 yards in 2004 and 22.4 yards last year.

He has also returned six punts in his career, but Ferraro wasn't certain early Thursday afternoon how comfortable Johnson was doing fielding punts.

"We'll get a little bit better indication catching a live ball versus a ball out of a Jugs machine. It's a little bit different with the wind and those factors," Ferraro said before Thursday's practice.

Still, there is little doubt that Johnson would like to be used more on offense as well.

During his three years in New England, Johnson caught 30 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns, but his opportunities dwindled each year – catching 16, 10 and four passes in 2003, 2004 and 2005 respectively.

"Some people specialize in certain positions. I want to specialize in being a football player," he said.

But he would clearly be another deep threat if he can become comfortable with the offense.

"All my plays for (the Patriots) were big plays because I didn't get a lot of opportunities to run around," he said. "Mostly, I was a deep guy, and that's how I've been since I moved to wide receiver. People see speed, they put you out there and you can outrun everybody."

NOTES

  • Former Vikings linebacker Kailee Wong hasn't been able to play for the Houston Texans because of an patella tendon injury that has kept him sidelined all season. He might be ready to return to action this weekend.

  • The New Orleans Saints released former Vikings cup-of-coffee camp quarterback Jason Fife and subsequently re-signed him to their practice squad this week.

  • The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released linebacker Kyle McKenzie, who signed with the Vikings as a rookie free agent out of the University of Minnesota this off-season before being released after training camp.

  • Former Vikings defensive tackle Cedric Killings had a tryout with the Houston Texans this week.


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