When McKinnie started training camp on the non-football injury list, right guard Artis Hicks rotated over to take the first-team snaps at left tackle, a position Hicks had played during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles. So Johnson, the undrafted rookie out of the University of Wyoming, didn't get a chance to make the sizable leap from the Mountain West Conference to the National Football Conference.
"I was still running with the twos because they moved Artis to the left (tackle)," Johnson said of his time during McKinnie's five-day absence. "But Artis has played a lot of left tackle, so that was a great experience because he shared a lot with me, just watching his pass sets and learning how to play the game.
"Each guy kind of has their own style of play, how they set things and the way they attack run blocks. Artis isn't as massive as Bryant is, so not everybody can do the things that Bryant does just because of his sheer size."
Eventually, Johnson might have a chance. One of the NFL sayings is that you can't size. In the case of McKinnie and Johnson, there is a lot of size with which to work.
McKinnie, the man they call "Mount" or "Eclipse," is listed at 6-foot-8, 335 pounds. Johnson (nickname unknown) is listed at 6-8, 330, but he still insists that McKinnie has a big size advantage on him.
"I'm about as tall but not as big. The guy is just … I feel small next to him and that doesn't happen very often," said Johnson, who added that being tall means pad level and knee bend are especially important to maintain leverage against defensive ends. "Hopefully someday I can play at (McKinnie's) level. I'm just trying to learn as much as I can from him, absorb as much as I can."
Despite starting 47 consecutive games – every game during his collegiate career – the adjustment to the professional level has been as big as Johnson's frame. "It's definitely a big learning curve. The offense is a lot more complex, the protections are a lot more complex, and things happen twice as fast," he said. "I'm just getting more and more confident as it goes. I'm definitely getting a better grasp of the offense and the speed of things and it helps me to be more confident."
Still, Johnson said there is some NFL-type competition in the Mountain West, including Tommy Blake, a defensive end from TCU that recorded 16.5 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks last year and is a preseason All-America choice by a number of different publications. Johnson called Blake his toughest collegiate competition.
Even so, Johnson said pass blocking in college came easy to him, but he has since learned that there is a lot of technique and just as much film study that is demanded at the NFL level.
"Pass blocking was something that always came real easy. I never really had to try at it in college all those years. It's a lot more technical – different kind of sets, different kinds of pass rushers," Johnson said. "When you're at this level, you definitely try to learn who your pass rusher is and his moves and adjust to them. It's tough, though, in practice, especially when you get two or three a day. Adjusting to each one of those is a little tricky."
The toughest defensive end for him to handle so far in Vikings practices has been Ray Edwards, who has had an impressive camp as a starter while Erasmus James works his way back into playing shape after being activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list on Sunday.
Edwards' multiple moves have been a challenge for Johnson.
‘He's got great get-off. He's got a good bull rush. He's definitely harassed me a few times. The get-off takes care of a lot. He plays with great pad level – not all defensive ends do," Johnson said. "On Friday, seeing him do some of that stuff to other guys made me feel not quite as bad. I'm not the only guy that's having a hard time with him. On the other hand, it's great to go against somebody like that in practice every day so I can only get better."
While he is trying to keep thoughts of the mandatory roster cuts out of his mind, Johnson has shown he has a chance to develop behind the sizable shadow of Bryant McKinnie.
PARTING SHARPER SHOT
Safety Darren Sharper was asked what this training camp meant to him and the team, and he joked about the culture of Mankato.
"It's always nice to come down to such a beautiful place like Mankato. You get to see the nice scenery – the farms. When you're driving down here, you get to smell the nice aroma of manure when you hit about 20 miles from Mankato. But it's a nice place; we always enjoy coming out here," Sharper said with a smile. "On a serious note, the fans are great and they always come out and support us and we have a good time."
Sharper said the team got some good work done in a camp that was a little less physically taxing on the players, but they will still be working like a training camp when they return to Eden Prairie on Sunday after facing the New York Jets Friday night.
"We still have a long way to go. Camp is over here in Mankato, but we still have some days when we get back in camp at Winter Park – we'll still be in training camp mode," Sharper said.
The Vikings concluded the Mankato portion of their 42nd training camp with the afternoon practice