Johnson evaluates his performance

Rookie safety Tyrell Johnson got another chance to show his abilities in the Vikings' playoff loss to Philadelphia when Darren Sharper suffered a high ankle sprain. How did he do? He gives his take on his performance and his possibilities in the future.

Tyrell Johnson entered his rookie NFL season with questions about how quickly a small-college prospect would be able to effectively apply his trade in the pros.

As it turned out, the safety from Arkansas State didn't have the luxury of sitting and learning to start the season. When veteran free-agent safety Madieu Williams was lost for the entire preseason and the first seven games of regular season, Johnson had two options – sink or swim.

He was able to keep his head above water.

"One thing I learned is you've got to learn how to handle ups and downs," Johnson said. "When you're up, everybody is patting you on the back. When you're down, nobody wants to talk to you. Just handling adversity and learning how to battle through it."

Once Williams was fully recovered from the neck injury he suffered early in training camp, he was given the starting job and held onto it through the rest of the season. The next time Johnson saw extensive time in the defensive lineup was in the Vikings' playoff loss to Philadelphia on Sunday, when Darren Sharper suffered a high ankle sprain in the first half. Johnson replaced him for the remainder of the game and would have been needed for at least this weekend's game if the Vikings had advanced.

"Tyrell, obviously in starting the first six games, did some good things and did a decent job here of stepping in when Sharp rolled his ankle. We'll just see if we feel like we have what's right to fill that here," Vikings coach Brad Childress said about the team's outlook at that position with Sharper scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Sharper, center Matt Birk and tight end Jim Kleinsasser are the Vikings' three biggest unrestricted free agents this year.

"(Sharper and Birk) probably have gas left in the tank, as we talked about," Childress said. "I think both of them, by the same token, are interested to see what's out there in the free agency market as well. That's the system. That's how that goes."

Johnson wasn't ready to say if he thought he'd be in a starting role next season.

"Only God knows. I'm just going to trust that he's going to put me in the position that I'll do best at. If it happens, it happens. But if it doesn't, I'm still going to battle and be me and do the things that got me here," Johnson said.

"I feel like we have a wonderful thing going. I'm going to work hard in the offseason and do the best of my ability to come back, bounce back and have a great year."

Johnson finished the season with 29 tackles, four passes defensed, one interception and one fumble recovery in seven starts during the regular season. In the final nine games of the regular season, Williams had 45 tackles, two interceptions and three passes defensed at that same free safety position.

Johnson said his experience this year will give him confidence if he is the starter in 2009.

"I've been put in that spot this year and was thrown in there (again in the playoffs). I can handle it. I feel I can handle it and do a great job," he said.

"I think I did fairly well. I made a few mistakes, but I think I bounced back from it and did my best."

One of those mistakes, he said, was on Brian Westbrook's 71-yard touchdown reception on a screen play in the playoff game. Johnson said he should have been on the outside of that play and forcing it back inside – "I tried to hold him up and make him dance around," he said – but several other Vikings missed Westbrook, too, as the shifty running back wove through defensive traffic en route to the end zone.

Johnson said he didn't think the Eagles made an effort to throw in his direction during that game, but he could get many more opportunities to make plays in 2009, possibly as a starter.


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