New Return Man Ready

Bethel Johnson

Newly acquired wide receiver Bethel Johnson would like to contribute on offense, but his immediate role is expected to help boost the Vikings' return game – especially on kickoffs.

The Vikings figure to have a new return man when they play Seattle on Sunday in their first game after the bye.

Receiver Bethel Johnson, signed as a free agent last week, is expected to replace Troy Williamson on kicks and also could be used in place of Mewelde Moore on punt returns.

At least that's what coach Brad Childress indicated Monday when asked about Johnson. But Johnson wants to make it clear that he also is a capable receiver and wants to get a shot at making a contribution on offense.

"Everybody tries to put me as just a returner but I can catch the ball," he said.

Johnson, who has exceptional speed, was a second-round pick by New England in 2003. However, he was a disappointment with the Patriots, catching 30 passes for 450 yards and four touchdowns.

Johnson's receptions total fell from 16 in his rookie campaign, to 10 in 13 games in 2004 and four in 11 games in 2005. The Patriots traded Johnson to New Orleans during the offseason for defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan. Johnson, however, injured his MCL during a preseason game against Indianapolis and received an injury settlement from the Saints.

He said he sat out five weeks so the injury could fully heal. During that time, a few teams expressed interest, but Johnson was waiting for what he thought would be a good fit. When the Vikings called, Johnson jumped.

"I had plenty of opportunities but I had my mind really set on playing here," he said. "There was just something about it. And I like to win. I feel they've got an opportunity here to win."

Johnson certainly could help matters by giving the offense good field position with quality returns. He has done that before, returning 102 kicks for 2,557 yards (25.1 average) and has two touchdowns.

He led AFC kickoff return men as a rookie with a 28.2-yard average (30 returns for 847 yards) and had a touchdown.

Williamson, meanwhile, has returned 13 kicks this season for 303 yards (23.3 average).

While Johnson wants to be viewed as more than just a return man, he admits he enjoys that aspect of the game and would be happy to help.

"Any coach can tell you that I love doing kickoff returns because that's a chance to take the momentum away from another team or set the tempo for your offense," he said. "I love doing kickoff returns."

NOTES

  • QB Brad Johnson is ranked 22nd in the NFL and 13th in the NFC with a 78.3 quarterback rating. Johnson has completed 107 of 170 passes for 1,128 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. While the Vikings certainly will be looking for more production from the veteran coming out of the bye, Johnson has the difficult task of helping in the adjustment to the West Coast system under first-year coach and play-caller Brad Childress.

  • RB Chester Taylor has been the workhorse the Vikings wanted at the position when they signed him as a free agent from Baltimore. Taylor, who no doubt benefited from the off week, is 11th in the NFL and eighth in the NFC with 421 rushing yards on 111 caries (3.8 average) with one touchdown. That, by the way, is the Vikings' only rushing touchdown this season.

  • TE Jermaine Wiggins continues to be a main target at times but at other times seems to be a forgotten man. Coming out of the bye, he is third on the Vikings with 17 receptions. That puts him only one behind receivers Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor. Wiggins certainly can't be counted on to be a factor on a weekly basis.

  • WR Troy Williamson could become more of a factor again now that it looks as if Bethel Johnson will assume the kick return role. Williamson was never a big fan of that job but was willing to do it to help the team. Williamson could benefit from focusing on one job.

  • WR Marcus Robinson has only nine receptions but he also has accounted for half of the Vikings' touchdown catches with his two. Travis Taylor has the only other TD reception on offense; tight end Richard Owens had a scoring reception on a fake field-goal attempt. Robinson's leaping ability makes him a logical choice for more time in red-zone situations but right now that doesn't seem to be happening.

  • CB Antoine Winfield was able to rest the partially torn quadriceps muscle just above his left knee during the bye week. Winfield was injured in a Week 4 loss at Buffalo but was able to play the following week against Detroit. Nonetheless, Winfield surely is one of the main beneficiaries of the time off.

  • DT Kevin Williams appears to be back to his Pro Bowl form of 2004 after being slowed by a knee injury much of last season. Williams struggled with his conditioning in 2005, but lost some weight before this season and is right around his listed playing figure of 211 pounds. Williams' play up front is one big reason the Vikings are fifth in the NFL (second in the NFC) in defense and fourth against the run. The other reason is ...

  • NT Pat Williams, who continues to dominate opposing centers and is having another outstanding season. Williams began training camp on the physically unable to perform list when he reported slightly overweight but it's quite clear coach Brad Childress has no problems with the mammoth tackle these days. Williams deserved a Pro Bowl berth last season but did not get one. If he continues at this pace, that snub shouldn't happen again.

  • RB Mewelde Moore could have his already declining role reduced even more if Bethel Johnson does indeed become the Vikings' main man on punt returns. Moore, the team's leading rusher last season, has only eight carries in five games. He mainly is used in third-down situations. Moore has returned 14 punts for an average of 7.1 yards.

  • QB Tarvaris Jackson has recovered from the arthroscopic knee surgery he underwent late last month to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee. Jackson is expected to practice at full speed this week and be the third quarterback Sunday in Seattle.

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