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Zimmer: Switch Allows Jaleel Johnson to Show 'Bulldog Mentality'

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — A few minutes into the fourth quarter Friday night in Seattle, Jaleel Johnson burst into the backfield and dropped Seahawks running back Alex Collins for a 5-yard loss.

The defensive tackle did it again on Seattle's next offensive series, splitting a block and notching his second tackle for loss of the game with a takedown of Mike Davis for minus-3 yards..

Not bad for a rookie fourth-round pick who said Sunday that he is still in a bit of a feeling-out process in the preseason.

"I'm still trying to master my go-to move," Johnson said. "That's something I'm working on every single day."

Johnson led all Vikings defenders with his pair of tackles in the backfield, but the former University of Iowa standout said the highlight plays were a collective effort.

"The thing I was most proud of was my production," Johnson said. "There were times where I did something, but it wasn't just me, it was the entire defensive unit working together.

"What they were doing helped put me in a position to really make a play. But then I'd do something, and somebody else would make a play. It's all about working together, and I felt like my productivity came from my teammates," Johnson said. "Those definitely build confidence, but it's more so just doing your job and executing it. Those two plays that I made, it was nothing spectacular, it was me just doing my job and what the play was."

Johnson has made an impression on Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who said Sunday that plugging Johnson in the 3-technique defensive tackle spot has freed him up to be more aggressive than if he was playing at nose tackle.

"He's playing a different spot, a spot where he can be more reckless," Zimmer said. "The other spot was almost a reading kind of technique. This one he can use his bulldog mentality a little bit more, I think."

Johnson's performance Friday was also recognized by Pro Football Focus, who noted Johnson's grade of 86.3 was tops among all players against the Seahawks.

The 23-year-old Johnson said he was proud of the mention, but added he found plenty of flaws from re-watching the game tape.

"There were some things on the film that needed to be fixed, little things like technique and stuff," Johnson said. "There were times where I didn't really execute or do the play correctly.

"It's really all about going back to the fundamentals," Johnson added. "The game is over now, and we've seen what we can correct on film … now we have to go back into the playbook and see what we can correct."

But if Johnson's run defense stood out in Seattle, he said it's because he's placed an emphasis on it with Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson and assistant defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez.

"Coming out of college, I was OK (at playing the run)," Johnson said Sunday. "But when I got here, going against better competition and guys who have been doing this for years, I wasn't where I needed to be or where I thought I was.

"Just spending countless hours here on the practice field and watching film and talking to Coach 'Dre and Coach Rob and some of the older guys, I really put that to use," Johnson added. "I come out and just try to focus on one thing and one thing only — there are days where I just focus on playing the run a whole lot better. If I don't do anything else right that day, I make sure I master playing the run. That way I can focus on something else and get better (the next day)."

Johnson said he's also found a mentor in fellow defensive lineman Linval Joseph.

"Whatever he does, I try to do," Johnson said. "I try to mirror what he does as far as on the field, whether it's not giving up on a play or running to the ball or making plays or whatever it may be.

"I'm even watching what he does in the building. He's watching film, he's making sure his body is feeling good for practice, he's doing all those little things that make him a Pro Bowler," Johnson added. "He's one of those guys who I really look up to as a player."

Johnson will get his next chance to impress the coaching staff — and find his way into the opponent's backfield — Sunday when the Vikings host San Francisco at 7p.m. (CT) at U.S. Bank Stadium.

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