Notebook: WR Johnson Downplays Patriots Game

Wide receiver Bethel Johnson called his matchup against his former team, the Patriots, just a game. See why Johnson doesn't harbor ill feelings toward New England.

The Vikings signed Bethel Johnson on Oct. 10, and last week the wide receiver made his debut as a kick returner and a receiver who was used more often than expected because of injuries.

But as Johnson gazed ahead to his next game against his former team, the New England Patriots, he seemed genuinely disinterested in making more of it than just another game.

He said it didn't really mean anything more to him besides the fact that he had friends still with the Patriots – offensive lineman Billy Yates, safety Rodney Harrison and defensive lineman Richard Seymour.

But it was Johnson who actually asked for his release from the Patriots a year before they granted it to him in a trade with New Orleans. That's why he doesn't publicly admit to any resentment with the Patriots organization.

"It was my decision. They only did what I asked them to do, so there are no hard feelings for that," Johnson said. "I wanted to be traded at one point in time and they did what I asked them to do. There wouldn't be any hard feelings for that.

"I just felt the situation wasn't for me. I wanted to do something different."

Since joining the Vikings, Johnson has stated his desire to become more than just a kick returner. In fact, he was getting some time with the Patriots offense, but those opportunities appeared to be getting more infrequent as time went on.

He had 16 receptions in his rookie year (2003) after being a second-round draft, then had 10 receptions in 2004, then four last year before he was traded to New Orleans in June and subsequently released about three months later, before the season started.

Last week, Johnson was part of the offense more than anyone expected after the Vikings suffered injuries to three of their receivers, with Troy Williamson knocked out of the game with a concussion. He didn't have a pass thrown his way, but gained 4 yards on a reverse and his role could expand this week.

"Right now, they know I'm still learning the offense. Things change every week so you never know. I'm comfortable with whatever they have me doing," said Johnson, who insisted it wasn't a matter of him still needing to learn the playbook. "I'm comfortable with the stuff they have me doing. They ask me to do something for that week specifically and then I make sure that I know what they have me to do."

There is no doubt that Johnson can be a valuable kick returner. His 31-yard average after last week would put him atop the NFL if he had enough returns to qualify for those rankings.

It is his willingness to run with authority after receiving the kick and his 4.2 speed in the 40-yard dash that make him a dangerous prospect there.

While he says some scouts timed him at a 4.19 in the 40-yard dash coming out of college, he also said there is much more to returning kicks than just speed.

"That doesn't have any significance on how you play the game," Johnson said.

One of his friends from New England, Harrison, said he wouldn't explain why Johnson didn't get more playing time on the Patriots offense.

"Bethel is a good friend of mine. I'm not going to elaborate on what he needs to do. I really don't care what he needs to do to get on the field," Harrison said. "He's an explosive guy. He has the ability to make huge plays down the field. He's a hard-working guy. It just didn't work out for him. For one reason or another, it didn't work out for him in New England and we wish him the best."

Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Johnson is still learning the Vikings offense.

"We're still trying to prepare him and get him up to speed as best as we can. We got him out there in a few plays last week. We still have plays earmarked for him this week. We're just trying to get him up to speed," Bevell said. "Again, he hasn't had as many reps as the other guys during training camp. He doesn't have that luxury of seeing all the adjustments of every play. We're trying to get it to plays that we know that he can do well and that if he needs to make an adjustment that he'll be able to do."

STRENGTH ON STRENGTH

Despite what sort of contribution Johnson might make on Monday night, the matchup of the Vikings Patriots is expected to be one featuring the running games and running defenses of both teams.

The Vikings' commitment to the running game shows with Chester Taylor's 137 rushing attempts, second in the NFL entering the weekend slate of games.

"He's a special kind of back, in that he doesn't hit the hole and then keep running into the hole," said Seahawks defensive end Bryce Fisher, who faced Taylor during his career-high 167-yard performance in Seattle. "He hits it to see if you're in there, and if you're not in there, then he'll keep going. If you're in there, then he'll look to somewhere else to go."

That's precisely what Taylor did when he bounced a run to the outside when the middle was clogged up last Sunday and raced 95 yards for a franchise-record touchdown.

While the Vikings have stuck with Taylor the entire season, the Patriots alternate using Corey Dillon and former Minnesota Gopher Laurence Maroney.

ANOTHER STADIUM

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, along with LB Napoleon Harris, OT Marcus Johnson,
TE Jim Kleinsasser and Vikings cheerleaders will gather with youth and community leaders on Tuesday to celebrate a $200,000 investment made to refurbish Minneapolis' Parade Stadium. The NFL's Community Football Field program is part of the NFL Charities Youth Football Fund, a multimillion-dollar effort of the NFL and its individual franchises in partnership with the NFL Players Association "to ensure youth across the country have the opportunity to enjoy the game of football," according to a Vikings release.

WITHOUT SEYMOUR

If the Patriots are without defensive end Richard Seymour, who isn't expected to play with an elbow/arm injury, his replacement might be nearly as good, if not as well known. Jarvis Green leads the team with 4.5 sacks.

STATS SAY

While the Vikings' have a higher-ranked defense, the Patriots come into the Metrodome with a number of streaks going their way.

Tom Brady is 9-0 in career in domes and New England has won five in a row on the road, outscoring opponents 156-64.

NOTES

  • Brad Childress on Jermaine Wiggins, who grew up in Boston and helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl: "When you walk in the door of your first minicamp, you'd be surprised because he knows how to wiggle open. He knows how to get open in the zone, how to drop somebody in man-to-man coverage. He's improved at the line of scrimmage in terms of being a blocker."

  • Childress told the Boston media that Bethel Johnson has "way better than average hands."

  • Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised the Vikings' offensive line, especially Bryant McKinnie: "This is the best offensive line we've seen this year. McKinnie is outstanding. He can do it all. He has some amazing plays. He's kind of like a freak playing out there, as big as he is and as powerful as he is, he's very athletic. There's a number of plays where he's 10, 15 yards down the field blocking linebackers, blocking safeties, just staying with them. He's a very athletic player for his size."


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