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Updated: September 2nd, 2010 9:45pm
Notebook: Johnson produces, while Sheppard, Allen scuffle in secondary

Notebook: Johnson produces, while Sheppard, Allen scuffle in secondary

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Tyrell Johnson made his closing argument on Thursday night.

Lito Sheppard and Asher Allen rested their cases with plays they'd like to have back.

The only three significant contributors in uniform for the Minnesota Vikings' preseason finale against the Denver Broncos were in the secondary, where two starting spots remained at least somewhat unsettled one week before the opener.

Johnson's primary competition at strong safety, Jamarca Sanford, didn't even dress because of an undisclosed injury that apparently occurred in practice on Monday.

And Johnson took advantage of his extended playing time -- intercepting an underthrown Tim Tebow pass up the seam, coming off the edge to disturb a running play in the backfield and making a good tackle of Bruce Hall in space before giving way to Eric Frampton at halftime.

"The ball has to come your way, and then secondly, when it does come your way, you've got to make (the play)," Johnson said. "That's what I practice on every single day in practice, is just whenever the ball does come my way, make the tackle or make the pick or make the big hit."

The results weren't as promising at cornerback, where the loss of rookie Chris Cook (knee) in Saturday's exhibition win over Seattle left the Vikings extremely short-handed.

Sheppard started at right cornerback and Allen at left in place of Antoine Winfield, who was one of 20 Vikings starters sitting out against a Broncos team that played theirs for about a quarter.

Denver kept alive its first touchdown drive on a 16-yard Kyle Orton pass to Brandon Lloyd, who shook Sheppard on an out-breaking route at the sideline to convert on third-and-14.

On the next snap, Orton threw a fade for Lloyd against Asher Allen, who had his hands all over the receiver and drew a pass interference call that set up LenDale White's 2-yard scoring run two plays later.

Later in the first quarter, Sheppard drew an illegal contact call for bumping Britt Davis along the sideline on third-and-3.

Asked directly whether Sheppard will be the starter in Thursday's regular-season opener at New Orleans, coach Brad Childress said, "I don't think we're close to that depth chart until Sunday. So, we'll just see how that comes about."

The Vikings pulled both starting corners after only a couple of series as a precaution. Cook's absence -- he's expected to miss at least a couple of weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee -- has the Vikings razor thin at the position. They finished Thursday's game playing all base defense because they were down to two corners once Allen and Sheppard departed.

"It's a fluid situation," Childress said. "We're going to sit and look at who's out there and that type of thing (Friday). But you've always got to be looking at places where you're short bodies."

Undrafted rookie Marcus Sherels was the nickel cornerback with the first group and sacked Orton on the game's second play. But Sherels also allowed a 39-yard touchdown pass up the right sideline to Matthew Willis in the third quarter and a 14-yard touchdown on a fade to Alric Arnett in the fourth.

The only other cornerback on the roster is another undrafted rookie, DeAndre Wright.

"It is kind of tough when you don't have set starters," Johnson said. "Everybody's playing with different people, and it's hard to create that connection with that other person that you're going to be starting with."

Lloyd goes deep

The depth Rhys Lloyd has been seeking finally came for the Vikings kickoff specialist.

Lloyd's first kickoff officially was fielded 6 yards deep in the end zone by Alphonso Smith, who brought it out and got drilled by Nate Triplett at the Denver 18.

His second and third kickoffs both were downed for touchbacks -- his first of the preseason, after getting eight chances total Aug. 14 at St. Louis and on Saturday against Seattle.

"To be perfectly honest, it didn't feel any different as far as the way I was hitting the ball from a couple weeks back to (Thursday)," Lloyd said. "Just managed to get the right pop on the ball and it was going where I was aiming."

A kickoff that landed 2 yards deep in the third quarter was returned 50 yards by Cassius Vaughn to the Denver 48. The Vikings blew multiple tackles around the 20 to let that one get out, though.

Taking out that return, the Broncos' average starting field position off five kickoffs was their own 18-yard line.

Walker does it again

Two games, two late touchdowns for Javon Walker.

The veteran receiver broke loose on a go against cornerback Alphonso Smith, who fell down as Joe Webb's pass landed in Walker's hands and went for a 63-yard touchdown up the right sideline.

Walker, 31, joined the Vikings on Aug. 24 with a lot of rust to shake off after barely playing last season. He entered Thursday no better than sixth on the Vikings' depth chart, but his production against the Broncos -- four catches for 87 yards, including the touchdown -- surely didn't hurt his cause.

"It's up to them," Walker said. "I know what I can do. I know what I can bring to the table. Obviously, it wasn't a long tenure here -- it was only just a couple practices. You know what? Me, and knowing my ability, I'll only get better. I'll only get better and I'll only get stronger."

Next in line

Backup linebackers Erin Henderson and Jasper Brinkley took advantage of their rare starts.

Henderson put the Vikings on the board with 5 minutes, 2 seconds left in the first quarter, scooping up the ball after a botched exchange on Tebow's first play at quarterback and returning it 35 yards for a touchdown.

After crossing the goal line, he whipped the ball about 30 rows up into the stands.

"It's been a longtime dream of mine to throw the ball into the stands like that," Henderson said. "I found out after that it's illegal and I'm probably going to be fined."

And if he is?

"It was worth it," said Henderson, who also sacked Tebow, had another fumble recovery and was credited with a team-high nine tackles.

"It's one of those things where you never know if you're going to get back to the end zone again. I hope they don't (fine) me too bad. I'm an undrafted free agent and I don't really have that much money."

Brinkley had four first-half tackles, including a big stick on Hall to stop Denver on fourth-and-1, and forced a fumble the Vikings recovered.

Health watch

Henderson had multiple stingers but came out OK.

Running back Darius Reynaud came up limping and received attention from trainers after ending up in a pile on his fourth-quarter fumble. He ended up jogging off the field, though.

In addition to all the key contributors scratched, the Vikings sat several players who have been nicked recently -- including Sanford, running back Toby Gerhart (knee), safety Husain Abdullah (leg cramps) and receiver Logan Payne (unknown). In all, the Vikings sat 28 players.

Quick hits

• Childress said the team probably won't begin making cuts until Saturday. "I told all those guys to get to the weight room and get a workout (Friday)," Childress said. Practice will resume on Sunday.

• PK Ryan Longwell and OLB Heath Farwell served as captains. They won the toss and chose to receive.

• Henderson's two fumble recoveries tied a team preseason record.

• QB Sage Rosenfels tied a team preseason record for most pass attempts (51) without throwing an interception.

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.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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