Vikings' Charles Johnson making best of special teams role
MINNEAPOLIS -- Vikings wide receiver Charles Johnson has gone from starter to special teams. He's at least trying to make the best of it. Johnson has become a gunner on the punt-coverage team, and has been named special-teams captain for Thursday...
MINNEAPOLIS - Vikings wide receiver Charles Johnson has gone from starter to special teams. He's at least trying to make the best of it.
Johnson has become a gunner on the punt-coverage team, and has been named special-teams captain for Thursday's game against Dallas at U.S. Bank Stadium. Helping him get the nod was a nifty tackle last week for just a three-yard gain by Detroit's Andre Roberts, who has returned two punts this season for touchdowns.
When the season began, Johnson was a starting receiver who didn't even play on special teams in the first three games. But he has just two starts over the past nine games and has played on most of Minnesota's special teams in the past two.
"I'd be lying if I said it's not frustrating, because you want to go out there and you want to play on offense and help your team win," Johnson said. "I don't know if the coaches would even want a player who would be just OK with not being out there.
"But that's not what's being called for me to do right now. I know that special teams plays a huge role. I just want to go out there and affect the game in any sort of way that I can."
After being plucked off Cleveland's practice squad in September 2014, Johnson became Minnesota's top receiver in the second half of that season. He had 25 of his 31 catches that year in the final seven games.
Johnson had just nine catches in an injury-riddled 2015 and lost his starting job. He reclaimed it with a strong training camp, but this season has not gone as he had hoped.
Johnson has just nine catches for 113 yards while starting four times and coming off the bench in seven games. While his production has been limited, wide receivers Adam Thielen and Cordarrelle Patterson have played much bigger roles.
Patterson also has become a gunner on punt coverage, and he Johnson have developed a friendly competition.
"It's exciting,'' Johnson said. "Me and C.P., we always tell each other, 'Hey, I'm going to beat you down. Let's see who's going to win down there.' We just like to have fun. We like to say we're the the best gunners in the league."
On Johnson's big play against Detroit, he barely beat Patterson to Roberts, who is third in the NFL with an average of 14.6 yards per punt return. For the game, Roberts had just that one return for three yards along with two fair catches that Johnson helped influence.
Johnson also caught two passes for 12 yards against the Lions, his first multi-catch game since Week 4. When he arrived for practice last Sunday, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer announced in a team meeting he would be special-teams captain against Dallas.
"That was exciting," Johnson said. "It's nice to see that the work that I'm putting in on special teams hasn't gone unnoticed."