MANKATO, Minn. — Vikings rookie running back Ian Johnson had to hustle from practice Wednesday because he had a massage appointment. A rookie getting a massage? Then I saw the bruises on his arms and figured, five days into training camp, he’s due to get the knots worked out.
The former Boise State standout who went undrafted and is fighting for his NFL life — as we highlighted in our On The Fringe series — has been putting his body through the wringer. His arms are thoroughly bruised and his legs are starting to feel the grind of the rigors of the NFL. Too bad he can’t get a massage for his brain too.
Johnson is going through playbook overload. He’s flashing well at times and wondering where to line up at others. The good thing for him, is he’s getting noticed on special teams, even though he’s only worked as a scout teamer to this point.
“He’s just like any rookie who comes out here. ‘Wow, you got Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor.’ The eyes are a little bright at first,” Vikings running back coach Eric Bienemy said. “Once he settled in it’s football. Ian is having a very good camp. Like I told him, eliminate the mistakes. We always want to put something on tape that people remember. Just make sure what’s on tape is good stuff.”
Johnson clearly is well liked by the coaching staff and his teammates, and he seems to be in a decent position to, at worst, make the practice squad. Bienemy said Minnesota will carry three tailbacks, which means Johnson is battling with Albert Young and Khalil Bell for one spot. That No. 3 tailback likely won’t get many, if any, carries, which is why special teams play is crucial.
As he was in our introductory piece for our On The Fringe series, Johnson is confident that he is doing everything he can to make it difficult to endanger his chances of making the team.
“Things are going great,”Johnson said. “I think I am fitting in great and I am working hard to make this team. It’s hard to become comfortbale with (the playbook) even when you sit there and study. You question yourself a little bit so you don’t get out there and play ball. I am getting to the point where I’m playing ball and it’s starting to show up in my performance.”
Coach Brad Childress said what’s taken him most about Johnson is his inside running ability. That was a huge concern and a reason why Johnson didn’t get drafted. Childress also said Johnson is standing out among the young players on special teams. Johnson said he has seen action in every phase of special teams.
“I am getting a lot of red (scout) team because they don’t know what you can do,” Johnson said. “I’m kicking butt on red team. I’m about to put a red ‘C’ on my chest for red captain. That’s how much I love it.”
Johnson said there hasn’t been any hazing of rookies, but there is a talent show on the horizon. What will he do? He might use his skills making cool-weather fabric goods to use. Remember, Johnson made knit caps and blankets for students and teammates at Boise State.
“I might just make a beanie,” he said.
— Steve Wyche