Thursday, August 4, 2016

Tom Johnson sees success on the horizon for Vikings' pass rush


Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson has flown under-the-radar as a rotational pass rusher in Minnesota. Entering his third season in purple, Johnson sees plenty of success on the horizon for the Vikings' defensive line.

Updated: August 4th, 2016 2:00pm

By: Daniel House

Vikings defensive tackle Tom Johnson has flown under-the-radar as a rotational pass rusher in Minnesota. During his first season in purple, Johnson notched 6.5 sacks. He quickly became an integral interior speed pass rusher in Mike Zimmer’s defense. Johnson substituted into the defense for third-and-long situations and quickly made his mark on the scheme. In 2015, Johnson notched 5.5 total sacks and continued to provide flexibility in pass rushing downs. He was on the field for 69.8% of the defensive snaps last year, up from 40% in 2014.

After joining the Vikings on a ‘prove-it’ contract in 2014, the team realized they struck gold with Johnson. In March of 2015, Johnson signed a 3-year, $7 million deal, to return to the Vikings. When his contract expired at the end of the 2014 season, he said there was no doubt he wanted to return to Minnesota. The mixture of young players and the coaching staff influenced his decision to remain with the Vikings.

“I felt like this was the best place for me,” said Johnson. “The guys that I was with were young and hungry and I feed off of them. Also, with the coaching staff and the Mike Zimmer defense -- he lets you go out there and attack, lets you eat, be an athlete, and not a robot. It was a no-brainer at the time to come back here because we are going to have a bunch of success.”

The coaching pedigree and hands-on approach of Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson also impacted Johnson’s decision to return to the Vikings. Patterson’s collective coaching approach has not only impacted Johnson’s performance, but others around him.

“[Patterson] is the best coach that I’ve been around on the d-line. He’s a guy that looks at you as an individual and not as a collective group and tries to have everybody do the same thing,” Johnson explained. “He is going to have me use my speed, set up people with my speed, and counter it with a power move, or he will tell me a different angle to use on different guys. He gives you those small little critiques that make a big difference when it’s game time.”

Since joining the Vikings, Johnson’s familiarity with the defense has drastically improved. He says the level of communication with Brian Robison, Linval Joseph, and Sharrif Floyd has made the defensive line an even more efficient unit.

“Being more familiar with the scheme and the guys you are with only brings confidence and success,” Johnson noted. “[The defensive line] communication is getting better, so we can definitely be more efficient.”

Aside from improved communication, Johnson has been very impressed with the Vikings young pass rushers and the talent they brought to the defense this offseason.

“I think we brought in a lot of talent,” Johnson said. “All the guys are coming in hungry -- working with Coach Patterson, getting their technique and angles down. I think we’ve got a bunch of talented guys that will contribute on the field.”

Johnson is a six-year veteran at training camp, but he says the mindset and philosophy doesn’t change with experience. The tempo, heat, and rigorous battle for a roster spot are all challenges for every player in the league.

“Most of the areas that you go to are going to be very humid and hot,” Johnson explained. “Guys are out here trying to win jobs and be competitive, so it’s just a grind. You’ve got to embrace it. If you don’t, you can easily fall into the tank. You have to come out up-tempo and with a lot of energy.”

Training camp is in full swing and Tom Johnson continues to show he is a rotational pass rusher who will have a major impact in Mike Zimmer’s overall defensive scheme. During third-and-long situations, he will continue to use his skill-set to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. With a mixture of veterans like Tom Johnson and Linval Joseph, along with young player like Danielle Hunter, the Vikings are building a pass rush for the future.

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