Charlie Johnson mostly flew under the radar as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, but flying under the radar won’t be an option now that he’s in Minnesota. Johnson can expect nothing but intense scrutiny both from the media and fans as he steps in for long-time veteran Bryant McKinnie who was unceremoniously dumped after reporting to camp woefully out-of-shape.
Johnson’s first day under the relatively hot spotlight was not a good one. In his first practice with his new team Johnson was reportedly man-handled by Jared Allen, a defensive end well-known for making mediocre tackles look terrible. “Aaaaand Allen gets another sack with a bull rush on Johnson,” 1500 ESPN.com’s Tom Pelissero tweeted of the beatdown. “Maybe it’s first-day jitters. Yeah, let’s go ahead and say that.
It’s always a little dangerous to make too much of training camp reports, especially early camp reports when guys are only just shaking off the rust, but the magnitude of Allen’s domination of Johnson was severe enough to be at least somewhat alarming. Johnson will be protecting Donovan McNabb‘s blind-side, and McNabb as we know is not as mobile as he was earlier in his career. Without solid blocking McNabb will be a sitting duck, and all the worry about our lack of downfield receivers won’t mean anything because he won’t have time to throw deep anyway.
If Johnson were the only question mark on the line things would be bad enough, but the Vikings have multiple question marks. As a matter of fact, every position on the line is currently a question mark.
Lining up next to Charlie Johnson will be Steve Hutchinson, an aging veteran who tailed off severely in 2010 due to injury. Hutch says he’s in his best shape in years coming into 2011 so hopefully we’ll see him get back to his previous Pro Bowl form.
At center you have a competition between incumbent starter John Sullivan, who last year forgot how to snap the ball, and Jon Cooper who was absolutely brutal last season when he filled in for Sullivan. After all is said and done the center could end up being Ryan Cook who the Vikings recently re-signed (but probably wouldn’t have re-signed had they not cut McKinnie).
Or maybe Cook will end up being the right guard. Last year’s starter Anthony Herrera is on the PUP list, opening up the spot for competition. Second-year man Chris DeGeare and rookie DeMarcus Love are the prime candidates to replace Herrera (besides Cook, who would be best utilized as a swing man but could be pressed into starting duty at almost any position including left tackle if things got dire enough). DeGeare and Love are both more-or-less unknown quantities.
The right tackle position, which last year became an area of great concern, may actually be the most solid spot on the line right now. Phil Loadholt did disappoint with his performance in 2010, but he’s come into camp in phenomenal shape and seems dedicated to improving. We know Loadholt has the physical tools to be a dominating tackle; now it’s time for him to hone his technique.
And forget about the talk of Loadholt moving to left tackle. Leslie Frazier shot that down yesterday saying, “We think [Phil] is going to be an outstanding right tackle in our league and we feel like we’re pretty solid at that position. We don’t want to weaken that position, so that’s not in the plans as we speak.”
In other words, Charlie Johnson is the man. But if he keeps getting rocked by Jared Allen and company, the Vikings might be forced to sniff around for a plan B.