The 2021 NFL season was Olabisi Johnson’s first non-football fall since he was 7 years old. A cruciate ligament tear in training camp last July sidelined Johnson for nine months, short of what many predicted could be a breakout year for the wide receiver.
But now, after snapping snaps with the first-team offense at organized training activities on Tuesday, the 2019 seventh-round pick has found a new passion for the sport he loves.
“I think you’re kind of stagnant, you know?” said Johnson. “You go through the same movements. You go to work every day. You’ve practiced every Monday through Friday for the last three years that I’ve been in the league. You know, as much as I still loved it, I probably lost a little bit of my composure. And then I took a year off and I was like, ‘I really missed that. I really missed football.’”
Johnson started 2020 in three games totaling 14 receptions for 189 yards. Johnson faced the Panthers in Week 12 as Adam Thielen recovered from COVID-19 and had his best performance of the year. He caught seven passes for 74 yards and converted a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
Coming back with a refreshed attitude, he rejoins a team that has refreshed itself.
“I think the energy around the building is amazing,” Johnson said. “I think KO [head coach Kevin O’Connell] really bought the whole team.”
A Lakewood, Colorado native, he spent most of his time recovering from the injury watching sports on television.
During downtime, he discovered a hidden passion for hockey. He plays in the second round of the NHL playoffs against the St. Louis Blues, the same team that defeated Johnson’s second team, the Minnesota Wild, with his hometown Colorado Avalanche.
He was also able to see how his teammates, namely KJ Osborn, excelled in his place last season.
“It’s tough,” Johnson said. “But at this point I just have to make amends. I’m injured and I want the best for my team, my teammates. I mean, I always do, even when I’m healthy and on the field. So, of course – KJ had a great year; he gave and did everything he had to do.
Osborn was the Vikings’ third wide receiver for 655 yards last season, a spot the two players will be fighting for this offseason. They give quarterback Kirk Cousins plenty of options behind starters Thielen and Justin Jefferson.
“I remember as a third year thinking he was going to take a big step and really show up,” Cousins said of Johnson. “Then unfortunately he tore his knee in a one-on-one here in the training camp. I’ve always had a high opinion of him and I think in Year 4 here I expect him to have a very productive year and a great year gives us a lot of depth.”
Winning kicking spots
Reigning kicker Greg Joseph and punter Jordan Berry will be fighting for their jobs this summer with two undrafted rookie free agents, special teams coordinator Matt Daniels said Tuesday.
“There will be full-fledged kicker and punter competition,” he said. “That’s why we got it [kicker] Gabe Brkic and [punter] Ryan Wright – to push the veterans we have and push each other. Competition makes us better, so we want to try to create as many game-like situations as possible, but also pressure situations.”
A four-year NFL veteran, Joseph converted 87% of his field goal attempts last year, his first with the Vikings. Predraft pundits listed Brkic as one of the top kickers in the class. He converted 77% of his field goal attempts and missed just one of 160 extra point attempts of his career at college in Oklahoma.
Berry averaged 46.5 yards per punt in 2021 after spending six seasons with the Steelers. Wright finished his final season at Tulane at 47.5 yards per punt.
Davis vs. Reed for right guard
Veterans Jesse Davis and Chris Reed switched series at right flank during spring training with the first-team offense. Rookie second-round draft pick Ed Ingram and sophomore Wyatt Davis may also be in the game but have yet to join the pickers.
“We have a lot of time before we actually decide who’s going to play the Green Bay Packers on day one, game one, but we like the group we have,” said offensive coordinator Wes Phillips. “We think it’s good that there’s a pool of talent there and a lot of people with a lot of different skills that we can just throw out and see how they develop, keep coaching them and kind of see them move up.”