Less yields more for Vikings, Johnstone

Updated: October 24, 2003, 10:21 AM ET

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- A decrease in playing time has led to an increase in production for Lance Johnstone, the NFC's reigning Defensive Player of the Week.

An undersized defensive end who signed as a free agent with Minnesota in 2001, Johnstone -- who's 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds -- posted modest sack totals of 5{ and 7 in his first two years with the Vikings.

A star at Temple who was drafted in the second round by Oakland, Johnstone recorded double-digit sacks in consecutive seasons with the Raiders (11 in 1998 and 10 in 1999) and returned three fumble recoveries for touchdowns. Clearly, the pass-rushing and play-making ability was there, but the Vikings weren't quite getting enough of it.

When rookie Kevin Williams -- Minnesota's first-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State -- proved he could be an every-down player, the Vikings decided to put Johnstone exclusively on the nickel defense that comes in for passing situations.

He still plays about 30 snaps, and he said this week he still gets a little winded sometimes. But the move seems to be working.

"As a competitor and as a football player, you always kind of wish you were out there a little bit more just to be part of the game," Johnstone said. "But as far as how it's working out, it's working out I think according to plan.

"I'm able to play fresh, and I'm pretty much at full speed every time I'm on the field. So it allows me to do the thing I do best, which is run."

Johnstone ran an interception back for a touchdown in Sunday's victory over Denver and also notched 1{ sacks, three tackles, a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry.

"He's staying fresh," coach Mike Tice said. "He's making more plays."

CHAPMAN'S RETURNS: Doug Chapman, whose playing time as a running back is all but gone behind Moe Williams, Onterrio Smith and a soon-to-return Michael Bennett, appears to have beaten out John Avery as the kickoff returner.

After starting training camp as the top tailback, Chapman has been hampered by injuries and has only 15 carries for 33 yards. He returned 11 kickoffs for 225 yards (an average of 20.5) last season before sustaining a season-ending abdominal injury.

"Doug looks like he is the guy," Tice said Thursday. "He is dying to get himself in part of the mix. ... Although Onterrio is in my ear to be the guy, I think it will be good to have a role for Doug where he has something he can go out and attack."

Avery might be placed on injured reserve this week or next because of an injury to his knee, Tice said. In that case, wide receiver Nick Davis would be activated from the physically unable to perform list.

EXTRA POINTS: FS Brian Russell was fined $7,500 by the NFL for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Denver's Shannon Sharpe last week. The league ruled that Sharpe was in a defenseless position attempting to catch a pass. ... PK Aaron Elling said his back is feeling a lot better this week, but Jose Cortez will handle again this week as a precaution. ... The catch-and-lateral touchdown involving Randy Moss and Moe Williams against the Broncos was named the NFL's Play of the Week by fans voting online. ... WR D'Wayne Bates is more bothered by a strained hamstring now than the foot injury that kept him out of the last four games. He didn't practice Thursday but is listed as probable for Sunday. ... WR Kelly Campbell (calf) also didn't practice Thursday, but he remains probable.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index