Ian Johnson (Tom Dahlin/Viking Update)
Vikings running back Ian Johnson put in a strong showing Friday night and knew the rest of his immediate future was out of his control. Turns out, Johnson did enough to earn a spot on the Vikings’ practice squad.
The last 48 hours of Ian Johnson’s life have been something of a whirlwind. Best known as the guy who scored the game-winning points in Boise State’s shocking Fiesta Bowl upset of the Adrian Peterson-led Oklahoma Sooners, he was a player that almost defined the term “bubble player.”
With Adrian Peterson, Chester Taylor and potentially Percy Harvin handling most, if not all, of the running duties for the Vikings, he knew that there wasn’t the luxury of having four pure running backs on the roster.
On Friday, in his most active role in the offense during the preseason, Johnson led the Vikings in rushing and made many of yards after contact, turning some heads. On Saturday, Johnson was among the 22 cuts by the Vikings. On Sunday, he was re-signed to the practice squad.
After Friday’s game, Johnson was asked to sum up what the weekend would be like. There were a lot of us doing the roster math that believed his situation would go as it did – the team would cut him with the hope he would clear waivers and be signed to the practice squad. But after his final preseason game, Johnson said he wasn’t going to sweat the next 36 hours. Asked if it could be a sleepless, nerve-wracking experience, Johnson said the worst was over as far as having concerns as to whether he had done enough.
“I don’t think it will be nerve-wracking at all,” Johnson said. “I went out there and put good stuff on tape. I felt I played very hard on every single play and I put everything I could out there. That’s all I can control. What was more nerve-wracking was coming up to the game, because I had all the things I could control coming up. Now I don’t control who picks me, if they want me here, if they want me on the practice squad. I don’t control that. This is the easy part. I just sit back and wait for a call.”
Johnson has witnessed firsthand the life of an NFL player on the bubble. When he came to the team after being signed as an undrafted free agent, Johnson made friends with most of the other players in his same position. They rented apartments, opting to not buy houses. There were no fat signing bonuses. They just tried to survive each successive thinning of the herd.
“You come here and there are 100 guys at first,” Johnson said. “You know you can’t play with that (many). You make really good friends with a lot of those guys. I’ve already had a lot of guys I’m really close with leave. Guys just keep saying, ‘That’s the business. It’s either them or you. That’s the business.’ There are 53 spots and eight practice squad (positions). That has not changed. You have to take care of you and be really good friends with the guys who make the (final) 61. It’s part of the game and you have to understand that. It does suck, but it is football. That’s what I signed up for.”
When it came to his own projection, when asked if he thought he had locked down a spot, Johnson said he would be happy to be any of the 61 players to start the 2009 season on the Vikings. Did he think he had it? With a smile and a shrug there was an affirmative head nod.
“I feel good,” Johnson said. “I’ve never set my mind to say that I’ve got it, but I took care of everything I had to do. I took care of the little things. The big things, like who the owner picks, he doesn’t listen to me.”
But, Johnson was quick to add, “If he is listening, hey, keep me.”
The viciousness of the NFL took a bite out of center Jon Cooper Sunday. After surviving the final cuts Saturday, the Vikings announced they had signed center Kory Lichtensteiger, who had been cut Saturday by the Denver Broncos. The problem for Cooper is a numbers game. Because the team has a pair of second-year players at center in starter John Sullivan and Lichtensteiger, the team may not add Cooper to the practice squad because with two young centers in front of him, he would likely have a better chance catching on with a team with injury concerns or an aging center.
Our Twitter world is bringing NFL news quicker to the fans than ever before – even news that hasn’t happened yet. Jets safety Kerry Rhodes saw interest in his tweets take a spike Sunday when he hinted that Jets fans should expect “a big announcement” – clearly making reference to rumors that the Jets will acquire Brandon Marshall in a trade with Denver. ESPN didn’t break the news. The New York Times didn’t get the scoop. It was a Twitter account. If the trade does happen, new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels will somehow have rid the team of its franchise quarterback and top big-play maker. The Belichick tree hasn’t really produced much fruit outside of the Boston area and “Li’l Bill” isn’t ingratiating himself to the Colorado faithful. What the Broncos are trying to keep quiet is getting brought to the light by a cornerback’s tweet. The world of communication is truly changing.
In Friday’s game with Dallas, fans saw wide receiver Isaiah Stanback, a converted quarterback, trying to hold his roster spot. A fourth-round pick in 2007, Stanback was drafted for his athletic ability, but after a couple of injury-plagued seasons and strong play from rookie Kevin Ogletree, Stanback was cut Saturday. He was signed Sunday by the Patriots to their practice squad, but not as a wide receiver. The Pats have apparently told him his duties on the practice squad with be entirely on learning the offense from the quarterback position.
Former Vikings cornerback Brian Williams, who was among the Jacksonville Jaguars cuts Saturday because he refused to restructure his contract, was signed by the Falcons Sunday to a one-year deal.
How would you like to be a bubble player for the Lions. Not only did the Lions sign Marcus McCauley (cut by the Vikings), they claimed defensive end Copeland Bryan (cut by the Bills), cornerback Kevin Hobbs (cut by Seattle), and return man Yamon Figurs (cut by the Ravens). There is a benefit to having a 0-16 record. The Lions are always at the front of the line when it comes to waiver claims.