EAGAN, Minn. — Bisi Johnson was supposed to face his hometown team a year ago.
The Vikings receiver was preparing for a big third season after showing strong flashes in 2019 and 2020. He was two weeks away from playing a preseason game against the Denver Broncos when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament on July 30, 2021.
Johnson was on the ground for roughly 30 seconds. He got up and walked off the field under his own power before coming back out to practice with a brace on his right leg. The next day, the official word came out: Johnson's torn ACL ended his third pro season before it ever got going.
Johnson attacked the mountainous rehab on his way back to Colorado.
Now, he is back — and feeling better than ever.
"Just to be back here over a year later, it feels good," Johnson said. "I feel like myself again and I feel ready to go. Honestly, that stuff's [injury] kind of behind me. It's just football now."
This Saturday, the Vikings will travel to Denver for their final 2022 preseason game (8 p.m. CT), and Johnson is ready to return home. He said he expects between 20 to 30 family members and friends attending the game.
"It's going to be awesome. It's going to be fun to see them," Johnson said. "I'm sure they're excited to watch me because there's people that haven't made it out to Minnesota or any of my away games. I'm just excited to be out there and hang out with family and friends."
A seventh-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft by the Vikings, Johnson quickly played a key role. He played all 16 games his rookie year, starting six of them, and stepped up when Adam Thielen went down with a hamstring injury. Johnson finished his first NFL season with 31 total receptions for 294 yards and three touchdowns.
In 2020, he began the year strong, hauling in three catches for 56 yards against Green Bay. His best game was against Carolina later that year, recording seven receptions on seven targets for 74 yards.
Going into the 2021 season, Johnson was looking to establish himself as the third receiving option behind Thielen and an emerging Justin Jefferson. After the injury, though, Johnson said the recovery process was extremely difficult and oftentimes discouraging. But he wasn't alone on his journey, as fellow receiver Blake Proehl missed the entirety of the 2021 season with a knee injury he suffered during joint practices with the Broncos.
Johnson added Proehl's presence helped him a lot during their recovery together.
"Honestly, having Blake there throughout the year was really nice," Johnson said. "Coming in and seeing his goofy face smiling all of the time, joking, laughing, singing half the time, so it kept things light and kept things easier than they could have been."
As he approaches his fourth year, Johnson is part of a young receiving corps aiming to fill in the remaining spots behind Thielen, Jefferson and K.J. Osborn. He was targeted three times in the preseason opener against Las Vegas but didn't record a catch.
Last week against San Francisco, Johnson caught three passes for a team-high 29 yards.
Johnson said there's still work to be done.
"We're definitely getting that game speed, getting that conditioning ready," Johnson said. "Coach [Kevin O'Connell] and I were just talking about it, we're going to have to play 60 plays and right now, I don't think we've even had that much as a total offense. So [it's] just getting into football shape and getting ready for the season."
View the best photos of Vikings WR Bisi Johnson from the 2020 season.
O'Connell said his receivers have shown signs of improvement throughout the preseason.
"When I look at that room, I see Bisi doing consistent things, doing so many things to help our offense," O'Connell said. "Ihmir [Smith-Marsette has] got a pure ability that everybody can see. And you just continue to look at the Myron Mitchells and the Trishton Jacksons and then Jalen Nailor and these guys. I just see everyone fighting and competing.
"Across the board, we feel very good about our depth there. They're going to get more ops against a really well-coached team in Denver," O'Connell added. "I know a lot of those guys. And coverage-wise [it] will be similar [to] what they practice against. So hopefully we can turn those guys loose and let them go win some jobs."
With the regular-season opener against Green Bay just a few weeks away, Johnson is looking forward to taking that field once again.
"Yeah I'm looking forward to just competing," Johnson said. "Green Bay's a big rivalry game, we know that, so the house is going to be packed. We're going to have a whole bunch of fans, the energy's going to be up and I'm just excited to get the season started."