CALEDONIA, Minn. -- Charles Johnson entered the 2015 season as the Minnesota Vikings' starting split end, with designs for a breakout year after a promising finish to the 2014 season. And for a few fleeting minutes, Johnson thought the rib injury that wound up defining his season would pass without much trouble.
Johnson injured one of his lower ribs on Sept. 27 against San Diego, while working back for an underthrown Teddy Bridgewater pass that the Chargers' Steve Williams intercepted in the end zone. The receiver jogged to the sideline following the turnover, and re-entered the game for the Vikings' next offensive series. When he ran across the field on a route, he felt it "popping in and out."
"I was like, 'Man, what is going on?'" Johnson said Thursday. "I went in for the next play, and I knew the ball was coming to me -- it was a deep ball. I was running, and it was just popping. I ended up getting a [pass interference penalty against Williams], but I just couldn't move to go get it. I was like, 'Yeah, something's not right.'"
It turned out Johnson had broken his 10th rib, suffering an injury that would keep him out the next week against the Denver Broncos and create an opportunity for rookie Stefon Diggs to grab a starting job he would not relinquish. Johnson missed the Vikings' next two games, against Denver and Kansas City, and said he didn't feel like he could really play while managing the injury until Nov. 1 against Chicago. He wound up making one of the most important plays of the season that day, climbing to haul in a 35-yard pass from Bridgewater in the Vikings' late comeback victory, but would only catch one more pass the rest of the season.
Now fully healthy, Johnson is hoping to work his way back into the Vikings' wide receiver picture for 2016. He appeared at Caledonia High School on Thursday morning, after spending the first part of the week working out with Bridgewater and Vikings wideouts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. Johnson has continued some of the footwork drills he began last offseason, in hopes of adding some quickness to his long speed. And he's welcoming the challenge, he says, that could arrive if the Vikings take a receiver high in the draft three weeks from now.
The Vikings had at least four receivers, including possible first-rounders Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell, in the Twin Cities this week for their annual top-30 prospects event, and they could try to land a big target for Bridgewater at the end of the month. Johnson, who is one of the Vikings' biggest receivers at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, still feels he can be that player.
"I don't really care," he said. "It's really not going to affect me and my approach to the season. I'm going to give it everything I have. We'll see what happens, and may the best man win. I know what I can do."