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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Why have Vikings made Charles Johnson a forgotten man?

By Judd Zulgad

Figuring out what the Vikings are doing hasn’t been too difficult when it comes to the majority of matters involving this team. There is, however, one great mystery at Winter Park for which no one has provided a sufficient answer.

What the heck has happened to wide receiver Charles Johnson?

A year ago, Johnson emerged as one of the Vikings’ best finds. In last Thursday’s loss at Arizona, he did not get on the field for an offensive snap.

Johnson was plucked off Cleveland’s practice squad in late September 2014 by the Vikings, thanks in large part to the fact that Norv Turner had been around Johnson in 2013 while he was rehabbing a torn ACL in the Browns organization. Turner was the team’s offensive coordinator that season and his son, Scott, was the Browns’ wide receivers coach.

Norv joined the Vikings as offensive coordinator in January 2014, when Mike Zimmer was hired as coach, and Scott came along as the quarterbacks coach.

Norv got much of the credit for telling the Vikings to sign Johnson and the move appeared to be a stroke of genius as he led the Vikings with 47 targets, 25 receptions and 415 receiving yards once he started seeing regular playing time in Week 11 of last season.

Johnson finished the season third on the Vikings with 475 receiving yards on 31 catches and two touchdowns. He tied for the team lead with nine receptions for 20-plus yards, averaged 15.3 yards per catch and gained 163 yards after the catch.

Johnson got credit for helping Bridgewater’s late-season surge and Norv Turner said Johnson is “far and away our best receiver.”

The fact the Green Bay Packers had selected Johnson in the seventh round of the 2013 draft made Vikings fans positively giddy about the potential for the production he would provide this season.

But then things quickly started to get weird.

Johnson’s playing time was not an issue in the Vikings’ first two games. He was on the field for all 54 snaps in the 20-3 season-opening loss at San Francisco, being targeted three times and catching two passes for 27 yards.

The Vikings rebounded to beat Detroit in their home opener the next week as Johnson caught three passes for 10 yards. He was on the field for 58 plays, or 92 percent of the offensive snaps.

But in the Vikings’ 31-14 victory over San Diego in Week 3, Johnson suffered a rib injury while trying to catch a first-quarter pass and was unable to continue after making a brief return. He missed the next two games and got three weeks of rest when you include the Week 5 bye.

It was during this time that fifth-round pick Stefon Diggs went from a game-day inactive to being Bridgewater’s new favorite target. Diggs replaced Johnson as a starter and caught six passes for 87 yards against Denver in Week 4 and seven passes for 129 yards against Kansas City in Week 6.

Johnson returned in Week 7 against Detroit but played only nine snaps. Diggs, meanwhile, had his second consecutive 100-plus yard receiving game, catching six passes for 108 yards with a beautiful touchdown grab.

Johnson was in for only seven snaps the following week in a last-second victory in Chicago. However, Johnson showed his value but making an outstanding, leaping 35-yard catch that moved the ball from the Vikings’ 38-yard line to the Chicago 27. That set up Blair Walsh’s 36-yard field goal to win it.

Johnson caught one pass for 25 yards the following week in a victory over St. Louis and was on the field for 28 of 72 offensive snaps.

He hasn’t caught a pass, nor has he been targeted, in the five games since. His stats are frozen at nine receptions, and 13 targets, for 127 yards and no touchdowns.

Johnson’s offensive participation since the Rams game looks like this: 15 of 62 snaps at Oakland (24 percent); nine of 64 snaps vs. Green Bay (14 percent); 15 of 70 snaps at Atlanta (21 percent); seven of 52 snaps vs. Seattle (13 percent); and zero of 68 snaps at Arizona.

There are many who likely are saying this: “Don’t you realize this is because of Diggs’ production? Diggs has been great.”

The problem is opponents have caught on to Diggs and are making his life far more difficult. He was in for 100 percent of the snaps at Arizona and yet was held to two receptions for 12 yards as he was shadowed by the Cardinals’ top cornerback, Patrick Peterson.

Diggs last had more than five catches in a game on Nov. 22 against Green Bay and has a combined four in the past two. Bridgewater threw for a career-high 335 yards against the Cardinals, and distributed the ball to 11 different targets, and yet one of his go-to-targets from 2014 was nowhere to be found.

All sides say that Johnson is healthy so why can’t he get on the field?

One theory is that this might be a financial decision. That’s a big mistake, if that’s the case. The Vikings acquired Mike Wallace this offseason and are paying him $9.85 million for subpar production. Wallace has 33 catches for 403 yards with two touchdowns, including one against Arizona, and his longest reception this season was for 25 yards.

The Vikings made a trade to get Wallace from Miami because they thought the 29-year-old had the speed to stretch the field and be effective off play action. But Wallace hasn’t displayed great speed and he has almost no chemistry with Bridgewater.

The Vikings might claim that all their receivers have a role, and that Diggs and Johnson share redundant skills, but this is a silly argument. Putting Wallace on the bench and playing Johnson is a no-brainer, unless there is something going on with Johnson that the Vikings are hiding.

Turner got credit for his overall game plan in Arizona because it utilized many of Bridgewater’s strengths, at least until the end. The Vikings are sitting at 8-5 and have an excellent chance to earn a playoff berth and be on a roll with home games coming up against the Bears and Giants before they close at the Packers in the regular-season finale.

Turner owes it to Bridgewater and his offense to give them every chance to succeed. Starting this Sunday that means he should find a way to get Johnson back on the field. If that means ticking off those who are writing those big checks to Wallace, then so be it.

The post Zulgad: Why have Vikings made Charles Johnson a forgotten man? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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