Rookie starter approaches MNF game in stride

Aaron Rodgers isn't the only player getting his first NFL start at Lambeau Field Monday night. Across the line from him will be Vikings safety Tyrell Johnson, a rookie who doesn't get easily rattled, according to his veteran teammate and former Packer Darren Sharper.

On draft day, safety Tyrell Johnson was something of an afterthought. The team had a packed-house draft party, but, thanks to trading away picks in the first and third rounds to get Jared Allen, by the time the Vikings actually drafted Johnson, the capacity crowd had dispersed and cleaning personnel were stacking chairs and tables in the Winter Park fieldhouse.

He was about as anonymous a first draft selection the Vikings have had in some time. The last time the Vikings didn't have a first-round draft pick was 1992 – the last year the franchise had to pay an ongoing ransom to the Dallas Cowboys for the lopsided Herschel Walker trade. Since then, there has been at least one player touted to the fans as the next big thing each year. Those players have included Robert Smith, Korey Stringer, Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper, Bryant McKinnie, Kevin Williams and Adrian Peterson – all of whom have placed their stamp on the history of the franchise. However, the list has also included Dimitrius Underwood, Derrick Alexander, Erasmus James and Troy Williamson – players who were varying forms of draft disaster.

True to their draft philosophy, the Vikings made Johnson their first pick of the draft, despite safety not be an immediate need with Darren Sharper coming off a Pro Bowl season and Madieu Williams being one of the team's bigger free-agent signings of the offseason. The plan was for Johnson to remain anonymous – being a player who saw action initially to give the starters a play or two off.

The plan got scuttled when Williams sustained a neck injury that will likely have him out until the end of September. Not only did Johnson go from anonymity to the spotlight, he will be doing it on the grandest of all scales – at historic Lambeau Field. A player's introduction to the league is rarely this huge.

"It's exciting," Johnson said. "It's a blessing to ever get to start as a rookie, much less in a big game that everybody will be watching."

Johnson, who was rated by many scouts as the top safety available in the 2008 draft crop, has been taken under the wing of Darren Sharper, who can relate the big-game mentality of Vikings-Packers prime time matchups. He's been through his share – both with the Packers and the Vikes. For a player making his first career start on the brightest of national stages, having someone who has been through the wars is a valued asset.

"It helps a lot to have a veteran guy like him helping you," Johnson said. "Any mistakes you think you might make, he helps eliminate them because he helps so much. He's done a lot to get me prepared for this."

For his part, Sharper said Johnson has impressed him with how NFL-ready he has been in mincamps, OTAs, training camp and in preseason action. However, those will pale by comparison when the ball gets teed up Monday night. Sharper was nervous in his first game and he said he's prepared to keep on eye on the formation pre-snap and one eye on his rookie teammate. The best part, according to Sharper, is that Johnson isn't the type that rattles easily.

"He's a kid that is on an even keel," Sharper said. "He doesn't let the situation get too big for him. He'll be fine. He prepares well. He has all the tools to be a great safety is this league and I'm definitely going to work with him to make sure he keys on where he is supposed to be and what's going to happen. He'll be just fine."

From the day the 2008 schedule was released, fans and media types have pointed to this game – a chance for the Vikings to make a statement to the rest of the league with most of them watching and get the post-Favre era in Green Bay off to a bad start. The hype began in April and has built all through the preseason. During training camp before the first preseason games, players were being asked about Week One at Green Bay. Johnson has fielded some of those questions. While he said he will be fired up, he has responded more like a veteran than a rookie, saying that he's not going to allow the circus atmosphere of the game to get into his head.

"I don't listen to it," Johnson said. "In this job, if you get too hyped up, you end up getting overhyped. That's when you play nervous and play scared. You make it more than what is in your head. It's still a football game like the others and I have to approach it that way."

But Johnson will admit that the game carries enormous implications. A road win against the defending division champ would send a loud signal that there is a changing of the guard in the NFC North and the Vikings are done knocking on the door. They're ready to kick it down.

"It carries a lot of weight, so we're doing everything to prepare so we can win," Johnson said. "Each of us is getting ready to make sure we each do our job. If we do that, we'll get the win. We have the team to get that done. Now all we have to do is prove it to everybody else."



Viking Update Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":" On draft day, safety Tyrell Johnson was something of an afterthought. The team had a packed-house draft party, but, thanks to trading away picks in the first and third rounds to get Jared Allen, by the time the Vikings actually drafted Johnson, the capacity crowd had dispersed and cleaning personnel were stacking chairs and tables in the Winter Park fieldhouse.

He was about as anonymous a first draft selection the Vikings have had in some time. The last time the Vikings didn't have a first-round draft pick was 1992 – the last year the franchise had to pay an ongoing ransom to the Dallas Cowboys for the lopsided Herschel Walker trade. Since then, there has been at least one player touted to the fans as the next big thing each year. Those players have included Robert Smith, Korey Stringer, Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper, Bryant McKinnie, Kevin Williams and Adrian Peterson – all of whom have placed their stamp on the history of the franchise. However, the list has also included Dimitrius Underwood, Derrick Alexander, Erasmus James and Troy Williamson – players who were varying forms of draft disaster.

True to their draft philosophy, the Vikings made Johnson their first pick of the draft, despite safety not be an immediate need with Darren Sharper coming off a Pro Bowl season and Madieu Williams being one of the team's bigger free-agent signings of the offseason. The plan was for Johnson to remain anonymous – being a player who saw action initially to give the starters a play or two off.

The plan got scuttled when Williams sustained a neck injury that will likely have him out until the end of September. Not only did Johnson go from anonymity to the spotlight, he will be doing it on the grandest of all scales – at historic Lambeau Field. A player's introduction to the league is rarely this huge.

\"It's exciting,\" Johnson said. \"It's a blessing to ever get to start as a rookie, much less in a big game that everybody will be watching.\"

Johnson, who was rated by many scouts as the top safety available in the 2008 draft crop, has been taken under the wing of Darren Sharper, who can relate the big-game mentality of Vikings-Packers prime time matchups. He's been through his share – both with the Packers and the Vikes. For a player making his first career start on the brightest of national stages, having someone who has been through the wars is a valued asset.

\"It helps a lot to have a veteran guy like him helping you,\" Johnson said. \"Any mistakes you think you might make, he helps eliminate them because he helps so much. He's done a lot to get me prepared for this.\"

For his part, Sharper said Johnson has impressed him with how NFL-ready he has been in mincamps, OTAs, training camp and in preseason action. However, those will pale by comparison when the ball gets teed up Monday night. Sharper was nervous in his first game and he said he's prepared to keep on eye on the formation pre-snap and one eye on his rookie teammate. The best part, according to Sharper, is that Johnson isn't the type that rattles easily.

\"He's a kid that is on an even keel,\" Sharper said. \"He doesn't let the situation get too big for him. He'll be fine. He prepares well. He has all the tools to be a great safety is this league and I'm definitely going to work with him to make sure he keys on where he is supposed to be and what's going to happen. He'll be just fine.\"

From the day the 2008 schedule was released, fans and media types have pointed to this game – a chance for the Vikings to make a statement to the rest of the league with most of them watching and get the post-Favre era in Green Bay off to a bad start. The hype began in April and has built all through the preseason. During training camp before the first preseason games, players were being asked about Week One at Green Bay. Johnson has fielded some of those questions. While he said he will be fired up, he has responded more like a veteran than a rookie, saying that he's not going to allow the circus atmosphere of the game to get into his head.

\"I don't listen to it,\" Johnson said. \"In this job, if you get too hyped up, you end up getting overhyped. That's when you play nervous and play scared. You make it more than what is in your head. It's still a football game like the others and I have to approach it that way.\"

But Johnson will admit that the game carries enormous implications. A road win against the defending division champ would send a loud signal that there is a changing of the guard in the NFC North and the Vikings are done knocking on the door. They're ready to kick it down.

\"It carries a lot of weight, so we're doing everything to prepare so we can win,\" Johnson said. \"Each of us is getting ready to make sure we each do our job. If we do that, we'll get the win. We have the team to get that done. Now all we have to do is prove it to everybody else.\"


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