Safety Johnson not feeling pressure

Safety Tyrell Johnson's starting status is being threatened by Jamarca Sanford, but Johnson said he isn't feeling pressure. He knows the situation, but he's feeling more confident as the game slows down for him.

During the course of the preseason, there has been an intense level of attention being paid to the Vikings by the local and national media. Much of that discussion has centered around the return of Brett Favre, the sidelining of Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin and the rehab of E.J. Henderson and Cedric Griffin.

What has seemingly been lost in the mix is an ongoing battle at safety between incumbent Tyrell Johnson and second-year man Jamarca Sanford. Johnson has been the starter at safety for much of his first two seasons – starting seven games as a rookie when Madieu Williams was sidelined and starting all 15 games he played in 2009.

Yet, as we sit just two weeks away from the regular season opener at New Orleans, Johnson is in a battle for his starting job that may not be determined until the lineups are announced Sept. 9.

For a player who isn't used to coming off the bench, Johnson said he isn't in fear losing his starting job.

"I'm not feeling any pressure at all," Johnson said. "Jamarca is a good player and showed what he could do when he got called on last year. But I'm confident in my ability. I know what I can do. All I have to do is go out do what I do each game."

Johnson does have some reason for concern. In last weekend's game against Seattle, Sanford got the start and Johnson played well into the second half – long after most of the starters were done for the night. He said he didn't view the move as a demotion or an indictment of his talent. He said that Sanford earned a chance to play with the first unit last weekend, but said he expects to be back in the starting lineup as the Vikings' engine starts heating up as the clock continues to tick down to the start of the regular season.

"The preseason is usually just getting your feet wet," said Johnson, who is expected to start in Saturday's third preseason game. "As the regular season is getting closer, you can see the tempo picking up and the intensity is getting more with each day."

The primary knock on Johnson hasn't been his ability to man his zone in the Vikings defense, it has been the lack of big plays. For his faults, one thing former starting safety Darren Sharper could rightfully claim was that he was one of the game's pre-eminent playmakers. He routinely intercepted passes and made plays heading the other way. To date, Johnson hasn't fared nearly as well. In 31 career games, he has just two interceptions.

Despite that lack of turnover production, Johnson said the offseason has been his best yet. He has an expanding understanding of the game and his role in it. He said he's prepared to make his own statement this year – not only to keep his starting job, but to make the kind of big plays that change games.

"In my third year now, things really slowed down for me a lot," Johnson said. "Do I still make mistakes? Hell yeah. But that's the nature of the game. It's the nature of life. It's just a matter of how you react off of those mistakes, how you bounce back and how you limit those mistakes."

While only in his third season, Johnson said he is ready to become one of the leaders of the secondary. He's no longer the wet-behind-the-ears kid who could be a potential liability. He sees himself as one of the guys in a veteran-laden cast of defensive players and Pro Bowlers who is prepared to make a name for himself in 2010.

"At this point, I feel like a veteran guy," Johnson said. "There isn't pressure on me anymore, just opportunities."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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