David Johnson wants to do more than run the ball for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. – David Johnson is a small fish in a big pond.

That little tadpole is sprouting into a big catch.

Johnson is steadily making progress in his third and final week of OTAs with the Arizona Cardinals, and head coach Bruce Arians is taking notice. Arians doesn’t trust his young pups at all; he wants them to show and prove themselves worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster at the end of the preseason and training camp. He’s not handing them anything; they have to earn it, which Johnson is doing. Johnson’s hustle is having a residual effect, with Arians heaping praise on him for his hard work.

“He’s (Johnson) an excellent pass receiver, that’s for sure. He’s very bright,” Arians said. “Once we can get pads on, and you can judge guys in (running) backs on (line)backers and things like that, then you can find out how big of a role he can have.”

Johnson was a guest this week on “Under Center with McNabb and Malone” on NBC Sports Radio, and he had a chance to express his excitement about his head coach taking more of an interest in him.

“Yeah, that sounds really good that he (Arians) noticed me, and hopefully I can contribute to the team (and) to the offense,” Johnson said.

The thought of Andre Ellington and Johnson teaming up together in the Cardinals backfield is a scary thought for any and all defenses who would try to scheme and game plan for them, should that be what Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin are thinking.

Johnson says Ellington’s been taking time out to show him the ropes, and just what it takes to make it in the NFL as an every down running back.

“Andre’s (Ellington) been really well to me, he’s been teaching me a lot,” Johnson said. “If I mess up on a play, he’ll tell me what I did wrong and what I could do to get better.”

Arians and Goodwin expect their running backs to be able to catch the ball coming out of the backfield; something that Johnson was pretty good at during his time at Northern Iowa. Johnson says quarterback Carson Palmer has also taken him under his wing, showing him just how things work in the passing game.

“Carson’s (Palmer) been helping me a lot also with plays,” Johnson said. “With us having to catch out of the backfield, or go as a receiver, he’s been teaching me some of the techniques to get open and some of the routes that I could run to get better at.”

The Cardinals were one of the worst running teams in the NFL last season. They were next to last in overall rushing; averaging just 81.8 yards per game, but that didn’t stop them from pounding the rock.

Although Arians wants to blow up secondaries with the long ball, he’s very much committed to the run, and making it an important part of the offense. Johnson has seen it, and been a part of it during OTAs. His role increased toward the end, as he got first and second team reps on the final day of practice.

“Oh yeah, definitely. We’ve been running a lot more plays throughout OTAs and practice,” Johnson said. “They’ve been putting a lot more running plays inside the offensive scheme.”

With his ability to catch the ball coming out of the backfield, or possibly while lined up in the slot, Johnson would equate his game more toward Bears’ running back Matt Forte, who has a very similar skill set when it comes to running and catching the football.

“He’s (Forte) an effective runner, but (he’s) also effective catching out of the backfield,” Johnson said. “His ability to be more versatile as a running back helps him out and (it) essentially helps out the offense in general.”

“That’s hopefully what I plan to do, that’s what I’m striving to do, is just be that every down back, and be able to do much more than run the ball for the team,” Johnson said.

Johnson can’t wait to get his first taste of NFC West action, when the San Francisco 49ers come to University of Phoenix Stadium on Sept. 27. He’s heard from his teammates on how rough the games are, and he’s ready to jump into it feet first.

“It’s definitely gonna be a war every game; who knows who’s gonna win? Every game is gonna be a challenge,” Johnson said. “Tough games to play in. I’m definitely excited to play against these teams. The (Seattle) Seahawks have a great defense, and the 49ers are just big up front, so it’s gonna be some tough running. It’s gonna be exciting.”

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