EAGAN, Minn. – A familiar face was in the Vikings locker room Wednesday.
Tom Johnson looked comfortable back in a Purple hoodie as he spoke to Twin Cities media members who got to know him well over four seasons in Minnesota.
Johnson signed with the Seahawks in March in free agency but was released by Seattle late last week. When he received a call from the Vikings, he jumped at the chance to return to Minnesota. He didn't waste any time, inking his deal Wednesday morning and reporting to afternoon practice.
The defensive tackle understands the business of football and doesn't harbor any hard feelings toward the Vikings for not signing him after the 2017 season. Rather, he's just focused on being back where he feels he belongs.
"To be back, it says something about [the Vikings]. And for me to come back means something, too," Johnson said. "It's a little deeper than just football. We got relationships outside of here, from the coaching staff and the players and stuff.
"This was more familiar, I know what's going on, it feels good," Johnson added.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer is equally grateful to have Johnson back in the building and said they hadn't initially wanted to let him go.
Zimmer explained that Tom Johnson will play 3-technique along with Sheldon Richardson, which will allow Jaleel Johnson – who has been swinging on the interior of the line – to focus on nose tackle behind Linval Joseph.
View practice images from Wednesday, September 19 as the Vikings prepare for the Buffalo Bills.
"I thought if we added another 3-technique [who] could help us in the pass rush, that would really help our wave," Zimmer said. "Tom's a great football player; he's been great for us in the time that we've been here."
Johnson signed with the Vikings in 2014, Zimmer's first season as Minnesota's head coach, and is well-versed in his defensive system. Johnson said he feels fairly comfortable sliding back into the mix and doesn't expect the readjustment period to last too long.
He did say the Vikings have made some changes on a handful of blitzes and nickel packages.
"For the most part, it's still the same thing," Johnson said. "Different terminology, you know. I don't think that will be a problem, catching up with what they're doing and how they're doing it. I know the techniques, I know what's expected from Coach Zim'.
It's only been about six months since Johnson left for Seattle, but beyond just the vocabulary, there are a couple other noticeable changes.
He will be wearing No. 96 this time around, and he spoke fondly of his mentor and teammate Brian Robison, who wore the digits for 11 seasons in Minnesota.
"B-Rob was a big part of this locker room, always has been since I got here and before I got here," Johnson said. "So without him around, it feels different."
And when Johnson stepped foot in Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center – which he called "the best place I've ever seen" – for the first time Tuesday evening, he ran into Terence Newman, who now is serving as the Vikings nickel/defensive backs coach.
"It's like family here," Johnson said before laughing that he hasn't used the new "coach" title for the recently retired cornerback.
"He's still T-New to me, even though he's got me by about five years," quipped the 34-year-old Johnson, now the oldest player on Minnesota's roster. "It's good that he's sticking around. He's got plenty of wisdom, knowledge. I still think he can probably play, but it's good for the younger guys to be able to contribute in different ways."
Newman turned 40 earlier this month. He immediately joined the coaching staff after retiring.
Richardson is one of the younger players in a key role in the Vikings defense.
Johnson previously was Minnesota's starting 3-technique but understands now that he's behind Richardson on the depth chart. He isn't concerned about the title or status, however, citing a blue-collar mentality he prides himself on.
"They've got a good rotation out here," Johnson said. "You have to take advantage of the plays you get. So I'm not looking at a 'starter/backup' type deal. The league knows who I am, guys in the locker room know who I am. So I'm not here to try to prove I'm a starter or if I'm coming in rotationally.
Added Johnson: "I'm coming in, going to do my job, contribute as much as possible, and hopefully we're winning."
Danielle Hunter, who has worked his way into a starting job at left defensive end, is grateful to have his friend and teammate back in the fold.
"He's looking like the same old Tom," Hunter said with a smile. "We're glad to have him back and add him to the D-tackles that we have. It's a good feeling."