MINNEAPOLIS -- Charles Johnson's career with the Minnesota Vikings has flourished largely through opportunities handed down to him after their original recipient discarded them. The Vikings signed him off the Cleveland Browns' practice squad last September after they saw media reports of Jerome Simpson's latest legal trouble and released Simpson. And Johnson took over as the Vikings' starting split end when the team saw that Cordarrelle Patterson wasn't ready for such a role in the middle of last season.
So, as Patterson appeared to run the wrong route on Shaun Hill's interception in the second quarter on Saturday night against the Oakland Raiders, it was impossible not to think about the divergent paths of the two players.
By that point, Johnson was already done for the night, having caught four passes for 40 yards and a touchdown from Teddy Bridgewater. He adjusted to an off-target throw from the second-year quarterback, helping the Vikings extend a drive on fourth-and-7, and hauled in his touchdown with a beautiful fingertip catch in the back of the end zone. All four of Johnson's catches went for first downs or TDs, and he looked as much like Bridgewater's favorite target as ever.
"You talk about that touchdown catch he had today with the defensive back all over his shoulders," Bridgewater said. "Charles, he’s a big, physical guy. He helps out in the run game with his blocking for the running backs and it showed tonight in the passing game in just the first half -- not even the entire first half, but the first quarter. He showed that he’s going to be big for us this year."
At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Johnson might be the Vikings' most imposing receiver, and his touchdown catch showed he's able to fight for balls in the end zone. The Vikings finished 15th in the league in red zone efficiency last season and threw for just 10 touchdowns in the red zone, which tied for the third-fewest in the league. They could stand to improve at finishing drives, and Johnson might be useful there.
There was one more piece of symmetry related to Johnson on Sunday, after Green Bay Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson was lost with what the team fears is a torn ACL. Johnson started his career in Green Bay, and the Packers -- a team not known for letting go of promising young receivers -- lost Johnson to Cleveland when the Browns signed him off the Packers' practice squad. Injuries had dogged Johnson in Green Bay, and the Browns found out the receiver had torn his ACL before he got to Cleveland. The fact the team kept Johnson, however, meant he was rehabbing in the Browns' organization while Norv Turner was the team's offensive coordinator and Scott Turner was the receivers coach.
Those relationships helped bring Johnson to Minnesota, where he now looks like a player the Packers would badly like to have back.
"Charles continues to make plays," coach Mike Zimmer said. "He catches the ball, he runs good routes. The touchdown that he caught, I though the guy was grabbing the heck out of him along the way, but Charles is a big, strong receiver that has good speed and I think they’re developing a pretty good camaraderie between them."