NEW ORLEANS -- When No. 81 scored Friday night, Aug. 9, for the Vikings, a whole bunch of No. 81s stood and cheered.
Rookie wide receiver Olabisi Johnson played in his first preseason game and had plenty of support in a 34-25 win over New Orleans at the Superdome. About 20 family members were in the stands, most wearing replicas of Johnson’s jersey.
“I loved it,’’ Johnson said. “They’ve been there at every game since I was a little guy, so just having them at my first NFL game, it means a lot to me. It means a lot to them. They weren’t going to miss it for the world.’’
Johnson caught two passes for 35 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter from Sean Mannion. That brought big cheers from his parents, Olabode and Traci Johnson of Denver, and others in the group.
“It’s incredible,’’ Johnson said of the catch in which he reached back for the ball at the left pylon. “The feeling was amazing. I was actually in shock.’’
The seventh-round pick from Colorado State is hopeful it will be a feeling that becomes familiar. He is optimistic about making the 53-man roster.
“It’s definitely a huge step toward that, but I can’t relax just because I scored a touchdown,’’ said Johnson, who also had a fair catch on a punt return. “I got to keep going out there and working.”
Johnson was the only one of Minnesota’s four rookie wide receivers to be targeted Friday. Dillon Mitchell, a seventh-round pick, and undrafted Davion Davis and Alexander Hollins played but did not have any statistics.
“He did good,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of Johnson. “He has done good through camp.’’
Johnson made a double move on his touchdown catch and Mannion put the ball in a good spot. Starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, who played just the first series, liked what he saw from the sideline.
“Great catch from him,’’ Cousins said. “And for Sean to be able to stand in there and take that hit after throwing it, that’s not easy to do. He had great trust that Olabisi would come down with it.’’
Young guys fill in
With nose tackle Linval Joseph and three-technique defensive tackle Shamar Stephen out Friday, the Vikings turned to some young guys.
Three-year veteran Jaleel Johnson stepped in for Joseph and second-year man Jalyn Holmes for Stephen. Hercules Mata’afa, playing his first preseason game after sitting out as a rookie last season with a knee injury, got plenty of time as a reserve three-technique.
“I know in the middle we need to be better,’’ Zimmer said. “We gave up too many yards toward the middle.’’
The Saints rushed for 141 yards. At least Holmes and Mata’afa both had sacks of former Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, although Mata’afa also had a roughing-the-passer penalty against Bridgewater.
Bradbury's smooth debut
Vikings rookie center Garrett Bradbury made his debut with no apparent complications.
Bradbury was taken with the No. 18 pick in April’s draft. He moved into the starting role at the beginning of spring drills with Pat Elflein, last year’s starting center, shifting to left guard.
“He was great,’’ said Cousins, who led the Vikings on a 76-yard touchdown drive in the only series the two played. “I thought he was, as he’s been all throughout practice, in great command and really sharp. No concerns whatsoever.’’
Too many flags
Zimmer provided a preview of what the Vikings will be working on in practice this week.
Minnesota was called for 13 penalties for 136 yards. Zimmer said that was “way too many.’’
“Whatever day it is, we need to work on it Sunday, a lot Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, so we can clean it up,’’ said Zimmer, whose team did not practice Saturday.