Johnson has different team, similar challenge

Charlie Johnson (Kevin Brown/Viking Update)

Left tackle Charlie Johnson has gone from blocking Dwight Freeney to Jared Allen during his every-day practices, but he is making progress as he gets acclimated to the Vikings' players and system.

Playing in Indianapolis, left tackle Charlie Johnson went head-to-head in practice with one of the NFL's top pass rushers in Dwight Freeney.

When Johnson assumed the left tackle spot in his first practice with the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago, he looked across the line at another former Pro Bowl pass rusher in Jared Allen. It wasn't exactly a welcome sight for Johnson as he adapts to a new team and new system.

"Just when you think you're going to get away from it, you come here and have to deal with Jared Allen every day," Johnson said. "But you know what? It only makes you better. For me personally, it's only going to make me better because there's not many people out there than can play as well as Jared.

"That will make me better, and hopefully, anything I can do to make him better helps the team out."

Minnesota signed Johnson one day before releasing long-time left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who showed up at training camp out of shape and reportedly weighing nearly 400 pounds.

The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Johnson has been slotted as the left tackle with the first-team offensive line since and he says he feels more comfortable two weeks in with his new team. His development will be crucial for a Vikings offensive line that struggled last season, especially in pass protection.

Minnesota's offensive line has been slow to come around in training camp with Johnson learning on the fly and starting right guard Anthony Herrera still recovering from knee surgery.

"We try to simulate the game out here as best we can," offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said. "It is tough to do, but that is always the aim. Then we will try to get those guys more and more plays as we progress through August without exposing them to injury or fatiguing them past their current conditioning level because I think we have all faced it."

Facing up against Allen in the initial training camp practices challenged Johnson. He was often beat by Allen in the early going, but Allen has seen a difference lately.

"He's getting better," Allen said. "Our whole offensive line is getting better. I mean, it's tough for them because they were kind of behind the 8-ball coming in with no OTAs and a new system. But we have good competitions out here day in and day out, and come Week 1 it's going to make us both better."

Johnson wasn't challenged much in the first preseason game, and often had a tight end on his side, but he doesn't believe he needs any extra help on the outside.

"I think when you get in trouble is when you start thinking, ‘Wow, there's no help. There's nothing here. It's just one-on-one,'" Johnson said. "So, you can't think about it. You've just got to go out and play, and know, ‘Hey, I've got to get this guy blocked.'"

A full-time starter the past three years with the Colts, Johnson was charged with protecting Peyton Manning's blind side for much of the time. Indianapolis was often amongst the league leaders in fewest sacks allowed with the help of Manning's quick release.

With Johnson starting at left tackle last year, the Colts gave up a league-low 16 sacks. Johnson played left tackle and left guard in 2009 when Indianapolis also led the league with just 13 sacks allowed.

Meanwhile, the Vikings gave 36 sacks last season with Brett Favre routinely taking a beating even when he wasn't sacked.

New Minnesota quarterback Donovan McNabb offers more mobility, but he also knows Johnson's importance.

"Obviously you want that bond with your back-side tackle and he's getting a good feel of the things that I do sometimes in the pocket when I feel pressure," McNabb said. "And I'm getting a good feel with him. Getting adjusted to my snap count where he can kind of jump the defensive end, and kind of get a bead on things. If he's a guy that works with his hands or is kind of a body catcher kind of guy, I'm learning that.

McNabb added: "Again, a lot of things that we've been doing, we've had some highs and we've had some lows, but that happens in camp. It's a learning experience for all of us, because we're learning about each other."

Meanwhile, Herrera has been working back in at right guard this week, though he isn't expected to play in the second preseason game.

Herrera was activated from the physically unable to perform list a week early as he returns from knee surgery. He practiced with the first-team offensive line on a rotational basis much of this week.

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