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It's been nearly two years since we saw Brad Johnson start an NFL game. On the occasion of his ascendance to fill-in starter for the Dallas Cowboys, it's worth noting the last team he started for: The 2006 Minnesota Vikings.
I covered that team and found Johnson's year to be one of the more surprising failures I have witnessed. On a professional level, Johnson and coach Brad Childress were not a good match -- a turn of events I never expected from two devotees of the West Coast offense.
As a result, Johnson fell from the team's unquestioned starter to the third string. Johnson and Childress mutually agreed to part ways after he threw more interceptions (15) than touchdown passes (nine) for only the third time in his 17-year career.
Let's be clear: Johnson doesn't throw as well as he did when the Vikings drafted him in 1992. But there are ways to minimize fading arm strength, and the Vikings did an excellent job of it in 2005 when Johnson won his first six starts in place of the injured Daunte Culpepper. Essentially, Vikings coach Mike Tice sat down with Johnson to learn what he was most comfortable with and worked those plays into the weekly game plan.
The following year, however, Childress was installing the fundamentals of his offense and wasn't comfortable with the idea of massaging it to fit the strengths of his quarterback. Childress believes that a quarterback should function within a scheme, as Donovan McNabb had done for him in Philadelphia, rather than the other way around.
Johnson had won Super Bowl XXXVII with Tampa Bay while running Jon Gruden's version of the West Coast offense, but Childress' style was much different. He offered little flexibility for changing the play at the line of scrimmage, one of Johnson's top skills. Childress also turned down schematic advice from a number of veteran players, requiring not only Johnson but also previously successful receivers like Marcus Robinson and Travis Taylor to carry out rigid game plans.
Robinson was so critical of the approach that Childress angrily released him on Christmas Eve. Johnson never directly addressed the scheme or his relationship with Childress, but in one fit of frustration Johnson said that he and Childress "never talk."
Understand that Johnson is an extremely proud man. Some quarterbacks might have been more successful in a so-called "drone role." But the Vikings' parade of quarterbacks since Johnson departed -- Gus Frerotte is Childress' fifth starter in three years -- has largely vindicated Johnson's reputation.
Johnson is close friends with Dallas offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, and the Cowboys will no doubt mold their attack to fit Johnson's skills. There's no telling how long Johnson plans to play, but this opportunity -- complete with the Cowboys' array of offensive skill players -- could provide him a chance to close out his career in a positive light.