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Updated: September 9th, 2011 2:38pm
Notebook: After rough start, Charlie Johnson showing signs of progress

Notebook: After rough start, Charlie Johnson showing signs of progress

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Charlie Johnson's first week of practice with the Minnesota Vikings was a misadventure. His second preseason game included one dangerous error.

But there's no question Johnson has shown improvement from the time of his late arrival in training camp to the final practice before Sunday's season opener at San Diego.

"Man, I think not only my comfort level, but our entire offense and coaching staff is comfortable with Charlie," coach Leslie Frazier said on Friday. "He's really grown. He has done a terrific job from the day he arrived. Just his professionalism. The way he prepares. The way he interacts with his teammates. He's been great."

Johnson signed a three-year contract with the Vikings on Aug. 1 and wasn't permitted to practice until Aug. 4, thanks to the NFL's transition rules after the lockout.

He spent the next several days getting whipped in practice by veteran end Jared Allen, battled a hip injury and missed a protection assignment on Aug. 20 at Seattle, giving Seahawks veteran Raheem Brock a free run on Donovan McNabb.

But one high-ranking scout who has seen Johnson play this preseason said the Vikings are "doing a very good job with him," and Johnson took an obvious step forward in a mostly clean half-and-change on Aug. 27 against Dallas.

"At the start, with me not being able to practice the first three days or whatever and then just getting thrown in there, obviously there's going to be some breakdowns and stuff," Johnson said this week.

"I think our communication has gotten better. I think that our tempo and our pace has picked up just in the sense of we're more comfortable. We have more of an understanding, so we're playing faster."

Although Johnson's 6-foot-4, 305-pound frame makes him look like a guard, multiple NFL scouts said this week tackle may be the better fit because he isn't a particularly powerful or explosive player. The question is whether Johnson can hold up on the blind side without quick-fire quarterback Peyton Manning on his side in Indianapolis.

"He'll have a great challenge ahead of him on Sunday," Frazier said. "(The Chargers) do a great job putting pressure on your tackles.

"From everything we've seen in practice and even in the preseason games, we should be in pretty good shape at tackle. Charlie's done a good job."

By committee

Frazier once again has formed an informal veterans committee he hopes will carry his message to teammates throughout the week.

Kicker Ryan Longwell, punter Chris Kluwe, linebackers Chad Greenway and E.J. Henderson, receiver Percy Harvin, halfback Adrian Peterson, end Jared Allen and cornerback Antoine Winfield gathered around Frazier at midfield for several minutes after Friday's practice.

Frazier said 11 players are on the committee -- presumably including guard Steve Hutchinson, quarterback Donovan McNabb and defensive tackle Kevin Williams, whose suspension ends on Sept. 19 -- and they'll speak as a group each Wednesday or Friday, plus daily visits for Frazier to check "just to get the pulse of the team."

"I need them to carry that message through," Frazier added. "If that's the case, if they buy in, then other players will follow. I just need to sometimes make sure what I'm saying they believe in. If there's something that we need to talk about within the team that's creating any issues, hopefully, they'll bring those to me and we'll be able to get a handle."

Health watch

Backup cornerback Asher Allen (toe) remained limited in practice for a third straight day and was the only Vikings player listed as questionable on Friday's injury report. A decision will be made on Saturday about his availability, Frazier said.

McNabb (right wrist), cornerback Chris Cook (hamstring) and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (hamstring) all were full participants and are probable.

Right tackle Phil Loadholt (family emergency) returned to practice -- "His mind should be clear," Frazier said -- and was removed from the injury report, along with defensive tackle Letroy Guion.

Quick hits

• Frazier confirmed DT Letroy Guion will start in Williams' place as the three-technique defensive tackle. Rookie Christian Ballard will back up Guion and won't play any end this week, Frazier said.

• Coaches planned to talk one more time before deciding whether Harvin or HB Lorenzo Booker will return kickoffs this week. "We have a lot of confidence in Lorenzo Booker," Frazier said. "Percy's done a great job, but Lorenzo last season, he did a terrific job with us as well. We'll talk about that some more."

• Frazier spoke at some length after practice with DE Everson Griffen, who played some weakside linebacker in the preseason finale. "Right now, I really want him to concentrate on being an end," Frazier said. "We have some packages where we're going to move him around (and) he'll be similar to a linebacker. But he has a chance to be a very good defensive end. Without an offseason, it's a stretch for some of the things you have to do at linebacker, but if we get a bunch of injuries, who knows?"

• Despite low expectations for the Vikings around the league and in the media, Frazier said he hasn't used the underdog role to try to motivate his players. "No, I haven't gone down that route with our team, because I've been telling our team that we have a good team," Frazier said. "So, I can't use that one. I'll have to come up with something different. We're looking forward to the challenge of being on the road on Sunday and lining up and seeing where we are."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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