Rookie linemen Johnson, Holden know they must earn Cardinals’ trust
TEMPE, Ariz. — When it comes to rookies, Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin does not impress easily. And if that rookie happens to be a lineman, then it becomes that much harder.
Welcome to the lives of guard Dorian Johnson and tackle Will Holden, the Cardinals’ fourth- and fifth-round draft picks, respectively.
Goodwin, who doubles as the offensive line coach, believes what the head coach believes: You don’t want to count on rookies until after Thanksgiving. It’s a phrase Bruce Arians has been known to say a time or two.
Of course there are exceptions, but for the most part rookies need those three extra months to really adapt to the NFL lifestyle, both on and off the field.
The biggest challenge is the playbook. In college, there may be a handful of plays, run or pass, but on the professional level that number is quadrupled given the different formations, reads and sight adjustments.
Johnson, selected 115th overall out of Pittsburgh, compared the learning to being back in school.
“Yeah, I got to study every night,” he said laughing, before adding, “Coach Goodwin, he taught us to break things down in concepts, like who you’re going to (block) on what play, like if you’re going to the ‘mike’ (linebacker). Just little things like that, sort of like group it in different categories and then learn like that. It simplifies the plays from like 47 down to like 13 realistically.”
Coming from Vanderbilt, which runs a pro-style offense, Holden hasn’t found the playbook too difficult. Everything else about the NFL game, however, is “a little bit faster,” he said. “Everyone is good, everyone is fast, everyone is strong, but I mean it’s been awesome. It’s a dream come true.”
The playbook and film study is how Johnson and Holden, along with the other rookies, drafted and undrafted, are spending their two weeks since the end of mini-camp. The veterans have departed for the summer, so the rookies have the run of the Cardinals training facility.
“It’s nice that we have our own routine to go through here and then we have time to watch film or whatever on our own,” Johnson said. “I think that will be huge because, I mean, you can look at the playbook all you want, but actually seeing things in front of you, like seeing how things go on the flow, I think that makes a huge difference and should help us for camp.”
Added Holden, drafted 157th overall, “I think it’ll be good coming from a mentality standpoint. Just getting two, three more weeks in that playbook going into training camp will help us a lot, but I also like being around the vets, learning from them and seeing what they have to offer.”
Holden said he’s been leaning on fellow tackles D.J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer.
At Vanderbilt, Holden played both tackle spots and some guard. Thus far, he’s seen the majority of his time at tackle, mainly on the left side.
“I’m ready to go wherever,” he said, mentioning kickoff return as another unit repped. “Anything I can to do help this offensive line and help this team win, that’s why I’m here.”
Johnson, too, has experience at multiple positions along the offensive line. He, though, was drafted to be a guard, and right now, it’s right guard, backing up Evan Boehm, that has his attention. It’s a spot he last played as a freshman at Pittsburgh.
Of Johnson’s 42 college starts, 39 game at left guard.
“I’m starting to get it down again and making progress,” he said, referring to the switch.
And apparently that progress has been noticeable. Consider the comments made by Goodwin during a recent appearance on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station.
“He’s coming along,” Goodwin told Doug & Wolf of Johnson. “I think he would tell you himself that he’s struggling a little bit from the terminology to trying to learn everything. But the kid has talent, he’s got a ways to go and he’s coming along nicely.”
The selections of Johnson and Holden marked just the second time in 21 years the Cardinals used back-to-back draft picks on offensive linemen.
The Cardinals clearly see potential in the two. The question is when does that potential rise to the surface, where the Cardinals aren’t afraid to play a couple of rookies.
“(Goodwin) lets us know you got to earn it,” Johnson said. “Nothing is given around here. You definitely have to earn it, so he definitely lets us know all the time.”
Added Holden, “I’ll whatever I have to do to earn his trust.”