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Updated: August 10th, 2010 10:04pm
Pelissero: Forget the starting job -- Pro Bowl is Tyrell Johnson's aim

Pelissero: Forget the starting job -- Pro Bowl is Tyrell Johnson's aim

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by Tom Pelissero

MANKATO, Minn. -- Tyrell Johnson isn't thinking about hanging onto his starting spot.

Johnson is thinking about bigger things in his second full season as the Minnesota Vikings' strong safety.

"I want to reach the Pro Bowl," Johnson said on Tuesday.

Sound crazy?

Maybe, considering his uneven performance in 2009.

Maybe, considering Jamarca Sanford is splitting reps with Johnson in training camp.

Johnson's not crazy, though. He knows where he stands. He knows the way he's played to this point opened the door for Sanford to get a long look this offseason.

"Way too many missed opportunities," Johnson said. "Had too many big missed tackles. Too many missed interceptions. Those absolutely have to be cut down, and I have to start maximizing my opportunities."

There is belief Johnson can do it, this competition with a former seventh-round draft pick notwithstanding.

Make no mistake: it's Johnson's job to lose, and the Vikings hope he doesn't.

"I think he has really improved as player," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "The thing for him is what happens in the games. Will he pull the trigger when he has to? Will he get his hands on some balls? Will he make the tackles that he has to make? That's going to be the big test for him."

Johnson's still only 25 years old. Scouts say his physical tools are excellent.

The Vikings thought he was a first-round talent coming out of Arkansas State, albeit one who was more of a Troy Polamalu-type roamer than a disciplined Cover-2 safety when he was beating up on Sun Belt Conference competition.

"The first year was just all learning," Johnson said. "You absolutely have no clue of what's going on. You're kind of like a chicken with your head cut off out there."

The last thing the Vikings want is to lop off the chicken's head again by sending Johnson to the bench in his third season.

He's had a quiet camp, though. Even with Sanford on his heels.

"Some people think that's my driving force," Johnson said. "It's not. I'm my driving force. I'm self-motivated. I'm motivated on the inside, and without anybody there, I would still be a great" -- he paused, catching himself -- "grow to be a good player."

The next step starts on Saturday night at St. Louis. Then, eight nights later in San Francisco, and back home against Seattle six nights after that.

"That'll be a chance," Frazier said, "for him to showcase how far along he's really come."

The Vikings hope Johnson does it. They hope he shows more than a glimpse of the player they think he can become.

Maybe not a Pro Bowl safety -- probably not this year -- but at least a guy who won't need competition next time around.

"I'm all about just getting better, and it's a process," Johnson said. "You have to start from Day 1 and grow into a great player. So, I'm excited to go out there and put some good things on film and show not only my coaches, but myself that I got better and all my hard work has paid off."

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 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