EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. Matt Kalil was visiting the Minnesota Vikings facilities the day after being the fourth-overall pick by the team in the NFL draft when he came face-to-face with Charlie Johnson, the man who's spot at left tackle he was taking.
It was a meeting Minnesota offensive line coach Jeff Davidson had prompted and one he wanted to get out of the way quickly. The message was simple. The selection of Kalil and the subsequent move of Johnson to left guard were going to make the Vikings better. It was going to make each of them better. There was going to be no animosity between Johnson and his replacement.
"I just saw (Johnson) and explained to him, 'You two guys are going to be best friends,'" Davidson said of the meeting in April. "And I introduced Charlie to his family, Matt's family, as well. They all know who he is. I said, 'There isn't going to be any bad blood.' And Charlie said, 'I just want to win games.' He does not care where he plays this game. He just wants to help us win. That's the type of guy he is."
Johnson reiterated his feelings about two weeks later, talking for the first time since Kalil was drafted. He had played all over the line in five years with the Colts before signing with Minnesota at the start of training camp last season and isn't worried about where he is playing.
"It wasn't anything like, 'Aw, man. Here it goes,'" Johnson said about the drafting of Kalil. "It was more of an 'Alright, let's go. Let's get to work.' I came up here the next day and he was up here eating lunch and talking. And I sat down and talked with him for a minute and it was on from there. So it was no big deal.
Johnson later added: "There is no animosity. Look, I'm going to play. I feel that I'm one of the best five guys we have on our offensive line room. So I'm going to play. To me it doesn't matter where it's at."
In fact, it was a move Davidson had been prepping Johnson for as far back as last September. Johnson was signed on Sept. 1, a day into training camp, and was thrust into the starting lineup at left tackle when the Vikings released longtime starter Bryant McKinnie the same day. Johnson had started the previous two seasons on the left side in Indianapolis covering Peyton Manning's blind side.
But it didn't take long for Davidson to begin recognizing that Johnson might be best suited to move inside to guard. He said he started talking with Johnson about a move back in Week 3 of last season.
"This was something that's kind of been ongoing," Davidson said. "I'm going to try and put it as nice as I can. I'm a no-nonsense guy. And essentially when I think that I see a guy and I know what he is capable of and what he would help us most at, I'm going to let him know that. Our postseason interviews that we had when I talked to Charlie, I said, 'You may be our left tackle. You may be our left guard. I don't know yet. We're going to be better at two positions if we get a left tackle in here."
The Vikings selection of Kalil wasn't just about solidifying one position on the offensive line. With the trickle-down effect, Minnesota saw Kalil as a way to strengthen the entire left side of the line for a team that allowed 49 sacks last season, tied for fifth most in the league. Johnson wasn't the sole reason the line struggled, but as the left tackle and blind-side protector for an aging Donovan McNabb and rookie Christian Ponder, his performance was in the spotlight continually.
Kalil was seen as the lone "set it and forget it" left tackle in the draft, a fixture at the position for the next decade. Meanwhile, Davidson sees Johnson as a better guard than tackle.
"He is a good athlete so he was able to survive the term I might use at left tackle," Davidson said. "The fact that he has an opportunity to be able to use his athleticism as a puller, the smarts to be able to help our new left tackle, and transfer information from our center to that, he's going to help fill the bill at guard. He can play any position on the line if we asked him to, in all honesty. I just think if we had to pick one for him it's the offensive guard position. So this helps us in a lot of ways."
Johnson has been around long enough to know how the business of the NFL works. He was happy to have a home at left tackle the past few seasons, but this season won't be the first time he's been asked to move. He's started at left tackle, right tackle and left guard in his career. Signed for four more seasons, situated between a first-round draft pick at tackle and center John Sullivan, who's under contract for five more years, Johnson might finally have his chance at settling in long-term.
"My skill set is for playing football," Johnson said. I wouldn't say that I have a skill set for guard or I have a skill set for tackle. I feel like I have a skill set to play offensive line and play football."
And that's just what he'll keep doing, one spot to the right.Follow Brian Hall on Twitter