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Notebook: Signs of Johnson's Progress, Depth at Slot Corner

EAGAN, Minn. — Bisi Johnson's first NFL preseason opened with a pair of receptions, including an 18-yard touchdown, in New Orleans.

It is ending with the seventh-round pick practicing with the first team in the days leading up to Minnesota's trip to Buffalo for a 6 p.m. (CT) Thursday game against the Bills.

His confidence and comfort within the Vikings offense has grown along the way, and he's maintaining an understanding that special teams could be important in his potential role with the Vikings.

"[Practicing with the first-team is] definitely huge," Johnson said Tuesday. "They obviously trust me a little bit to allow me to come out here and run with the ones. It's fun."

When Johnson first received his Vikings playbook, he said he was spending two-and-a-half to three hours in it each night. He began by learning one of the receiver spots in the offense and has increased his understanding of multiple receivers' roles and responsibilities.

Little details can mean a big deal.

"There's a huge emphasis on [route] depth and things like that," Johnson said. "We talk about it every day in meetings, 'a yard short on this route,' or things like that. We focus a lot on details. I think that's what Coach [Mike] Zimmer talked about after this last game, not huge mistakes that you guys or the fans saw, but the little things, especially in that first half."

Over the course of camp, Johnson has tried to emphasize being in the right place at the right time, whether it's before the snap or during the play.

That doesn't mean there still won't be a hiccup or two along the way.

Johnson owned up to running a wrong route early in Saturday's game against the Cardinals, which led to a correction session with Kirk Cousins.

"Honestly, it was a lot more relaxed than I expected it to be, because Kirk can be a little upset sometimes, which is normal," Johnson said. "It doesn't matter whether I'm a rookie or a 10-year vet; he expects guys to be in the right place at the right time, and when they're not, it's unfortunate. I think he handled it well with me."

Johnson bounced back, however, to lead the Vikings with three receptions and 52 yards, highlighted by a spin move that helped on a gain of 22 on a pass from Kyle Sloter.

"A quarterback's biggest thing is trust, and they need to trust that I'm going to be in the right position at all times," Johnson said. "I think that's what I've done."

Analytics site Pro Football Focus has taken notice of Johnson's work through three games, issuing a grade of 80.8 to the Colorado State product. The grade is 19th overall among all rookies and the second-highest issued to a receiver behind Rams undrafted rookie Nsimba Walker.

PFF's Anthony Thrash wrote:

Johnson has been lights out on every catch he has made so far this preseason. Out of his six total targets, five of them have had a step or more of separation and four went down as an explosive play. Not to mention, Johnson has also generated a perfect passer rating on his targets and collected 8.2 yards after the catch per reception.

Cornerbacks under development

The Vikings have made a pair of roster moves in their secondary on consecutive days.

On Monday, Minnesota removed Mike Hughes from the Physically Unable to Perform List, a major milestone for the 2018 first-round pick, but his timeline for returning to full participation in practice remains unknown.

"We look forward to him getting back into the flow of being able to contribute," Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said.

The Vikings also released cornerback Bené Benwikere on Tuesday. The veteran had been working inside at the nickel spot where Mackensie Alexander is the starter. Several young defensive backs made plays in practice Tuesday.

"We've got a lot of guys that we've repped inside and really have alternated different guys in there," Edwards said. "We feel pretty good about the work that they've done so far, and it'll be just as critical this week going out and have another consistent performance inside in the slot. But we look forward to keep progressing with those guys. Just as we get into next week and the game preparation, we know pretty much the skill set of a lot of those guys that we worked in there and how we'll use them moving forward."

View exclusive black-and-white images from the Vikings preseason game against the Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Backup QB Plan?

It's unlikely that Cousins or very many starters will suit up against the Bills.

The Vikings might play their other three quarterbacks.

Sean Mannion has replaced Cousins in each of the past three games, and Sloter has been next in line, pumping up his stats and providing a late spark. Undrafted rookie Jake Browning played at New Orleans but hasn't hit the field for a game since.

Zimmer on Tuesday declined to share the plan for quarterbacks on Thursday.

Asked if he wants to see Mannion play again, Zimmer said, "I don't know. He's had a good preseason."

With Cousins set at the starter, that means three quarterbacks could be vying for one or perhaps two spots.

"It all depends on other positions, really, where we're at with the 53, if we can keep three or keep two," Zimmer said.

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