But Johnson is hoping to put himself into the mix for the job of replacing Chester Taylor as the primary backup to Adrian Peterson. He is hoping that 2010 is a big year for him and a chance to forget the 2009 season, which was marked with tragedy.
Johnson was a member of the Cincinnati Bengals the last two years and the frustration of returning to the practice squad for a second year was compounded by the profound sense of sadness the Bengals organization suffered through in 2009. On Oct. 8, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer came home from a team meeting to find his wife dead on the floor of their home. On Dec. 17, wide receiver Chris Henry died after falling from the back of a pickup truck and being left in the street.
For years, Henry had the scarlet letter of being an NFL bad boy, with a rap sheet that included assault, DWI and marijuana possession. He was suspended twice by the league for conduct unbecoming and had already been released once by the Bengals. Although he was on injured reserve at the time of his death, his career and life turnaround had been epic. His future was brighter than it ever had been, and the double-blow of the death of Zimmer's wife and Henry's accidental death were the kind of tragedies that can destroy a locker room.
In 2000, the Vikings advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three years. The following summer, Korey Stringer died after being taken by ambulance from the practice field area at training camp in Mankato to a hospital. The 2001 season was a struggle for the Vikings in which blowups between Cris Carter and Daunte Culpepper on the sidelines were caught by network cameras and, by the time the season ended, Dennis Green was out as the Vikings head coach.
Johnson and his Bengals teammates faced a similar crossroads. It wasn't easy dealing with the death of a teammate, but the Bengals were able to band together and win their first AFC North title after years of mediocrity.
"It was very hard," Johnson said. "My locker was right next to Chris. For two years (that I with the Bengals), he was great. He turned his life around for the best. That was a hard thing to take in."
The Bengals offense struggled without Henry, which made his passing even harder to take. In an emotional sport like football, the circumstances of his death and his expanding role on the team were losses of both a personal and professional nature. But the Bengals used the tragedy as inspiration to advance to the 2009 playoffs.
"I think we came together, but it was hard," said Johnson, who said the emotional pain translated into problems on the field that needed to be overcome. "We missed his deep threat on the field. The passing game just stuttered a little bit because he had the deep threat, he could run, he could catch, he could do whatever."
Johnson said he hopes for a fresh start with the Vikings and that 2010 will help erase the tragic memories of the 2009 season he and his Bengals teammates endured. He said he has earned a ton of respect for his teammates from Cincinnati, who could have buckled as the 2001 Vikings did. Instead, they rallied together from the tragedy and honored the dual losses to their team family by winning their division title and putting the Bengals back on the NFL map.
"Something like that could make you or break you," Johnson said. "It brought us together."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.