2008 pick Johnson proves a quick study for vikes

Tyrell Johnson doesn't want people to underestimate the work that goes into being a professional athlete.

The former Arkansas State safety was selected 43rd overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. He learned quickly that 10-plus-hour days aren't uncommon.

On a typical day, the players arrive at the stadium around 8 a.m. and go through a series of meetings and a walk-through before lunch. In the afternoon, the Vikings would perform a full practice, break up for more meetings, and then dismiss around 5 p.m. For players looking for extra work, a day might not end until 7 p.m.

Early in his career Johnson came up with a simple analogy to compare his new job with the real world.

"It's a job just like you go to a factory," Johnson said. "If you went to Frito Lays' factory or anywhere else, you go to the NFL and work."

And there is plenty of work to do as a rookie.

With mini-camps, training camp and his inaugural season, Johnson didn't have a real vacation from football beginning with last April's draft until the Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs in early January.

Johnson's recently been enjoying some down time. The Rison native returned to Jonesboro for a few days, helped promote an Arkansas Twisters tryout camp and also found time to travel to Hawaii with some teammates to watch Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield in the Pro Bowl.

Soaking up additional football knowledge was a common theme for Johnson throughout his rookie campaign. Without it, Johnson said it would be impossible to survive as a pro.

"In college you can go out there on sheer talent alone and be the best player on the field or one of the best and then fail," Johnson said. "Everybody you play against was the best player on the field in college and you have to do something to get a nick over them and that's the knowledge of the game.

"You have to actually know everything about the game. Every formation they line up in, you have to know what plays they run, what tendencies [they show]."

Vikings coach Brad Childress was impressed early on with Johnson's ability to process information quickly. Johnson played in 16 games, starting in seven, and finished with 31 tackles and an interception.

"He's a good communicator and he's learning on the fly," Childress told the Vikings' team Web site last season. "He's one of those guys that it's good for him to see, but he's a quick study."

Johnson was able to share that knowledge with former teammates and coaches during his recent stop in Jonesboro. Red Wolves coach Steve Roberts relished the opportunity.

"It's good for our football program and our university to have somebody at that level that can come back and represent the NFL to our football team (and) to our players and represent us there," Roberts said.

And Johnson represented ASU well. Minnesota put him to work almost immediately last season.

Safety and prized free-agent acquisition Madieu Williams suffered a preseason injury and missed the first seven games. His starting void was filled by Johnson.

Knowing that Johnson is capable of playing well in the pros, the Vikings didn't re-sign starting safety Darren Sharper, who in March signed a contract with the New Orleans Saints. Sharper has 54 career interceptions, the most of any active NFL player.

Johnson described Sharper as his professional mentor, helping him learn more about the NFL game.

Clearly, Johnson has more improvement to make. He'll soon begin preparing for 2009 soon and there are plenty of long days and nights ahead of him.

Despite the challenges, there isn't anything Johnson would change about his NFL experience, he says. It's hard work, but it's a job Johnson clearly enjoys.

"My dream has come true. I get to live the dream that so many others strive for," Johnson said. "I'm very fortunate and blessed to have an opportunity."