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David Johnson’s absence means ‘valuable reps’ for other Cardinals RBs

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TEMPE, Ariz. – Once again, there was no sign of No. 31 at Arizona Cardinals mini-camp Wednesday. Running back David Johnson skipped his second straight day of practice, reportedly because of a contract dispute.

With Johnson absent, the door remained open for the rest of the running backs in the room to step in and, more importantly perhaps, step up in place of the starter.

“It’s been valuable reps for all those guys this week,” said head coach Steve Wilks.

Wilks praised the entire running backs room—“All those guys are doing a tremendous job,” he said—but stopped to single out the newest addition, rookie Chase Edmonds.

The Cardinals drafted the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Edmonds in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

“The one thing I like about him,” Wilks said Wednesday, “you look at a guy that size … he does a tremendous job in pass pro and his protection. We know right now his skill-set — being able to get outside the tackle and then also work out in space with his hands — but this guy is pretty physical in the pass game as well, so that’s what I like about him.”

For Edmonds, as well as D.J. Foster and T.J. Logan, they all support and understand Johnson’s decision to stay away. That’s their teammate and teammates stand by one another.

Still, someone has to take those first-team reps that Johnson is missing.

“One thing that Coach Kirby always talks about is really inspire the play-caller,” Edmonds said, referring to running backs coach Kirby Wilson. “As a running back group, you want to inspire Coach (Mike) McCoy, like, when it’s a tough situation, third-and-one, to run the ball. So really right now I’m just trying to inspire the guys that I can handle the job — obviously until David comes back or whatever the case may be — but really just to pick the offense up and let them know that I am ready when my time comes.”

Johnson will eventually rejoin the team. He is, let’s not forget, expected to be the focal point of the offense this season.

Johnson, though, won’t get all the touches. He will need a rest, and on those rare occasions when Johnson is not in the game, the Cardinals will need to feel confident in whomever they send out on the field.

And that’s why this week becomes so very important for Edmonds, Foster and Logan.

“You want a guy that’s going to be able to step up that can be able to give you the same elements from a standpoint of a three-down back that you can be able to use out in space but most importantly, also in pass protection so that’s the key, and those are getting that teaching,” Wilks said.

Learning the offense

Life in the NFL has been an eye-opening experience for Edmonds.

Asked what the biggest lesson he’s learned after just two months as a professional, Edmonds, 22, didn’t hesitate.

“You got to be in your playbooks,” he said, smiling. ‘That’s one thing that, obviously, you can tell that sets people apart. Who’s studying, who’s not studying. I’m just trying to do my best to really just stay in the playbook and learn the offense as well as possible.”

So, how much time has Edmonds spent studying the playbook?

“I just try to trap myself in the hotel room right now,” he said. “Every day and just study what we’re going over. After practice. Study my game and the rest will take care of itself.”

Of course, the offense is new for every Cardinals player, with much of the responsibility falling on the shoulders of the quarterback, which is exactly what starter Sam Bradford wants.

Quickly, he and McCoy have developed a good working relationship.

“(McCoy) asks a lot of the quarterback but by asking a lot of us, he gives us a lot of freedom. He allows us to check to things whenever we feel like it. He allows us to really do whatever we want as long as we have a reason. He trusts us,” said Bradford, who saw his reps increase Wednesday.

“But with that comes a lot of responsibility, not in the pass game but also in the run game. I think the run game is very complex. I think we’re asked to do a lot in the run game as well, just as far as mic (linebacker) points, blocking the fourth defender with wide receivers, things of that nature. But I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a challenge to learn the system and it’s been fun to be apart of it.”

Another tryout

The Cardinals this week brought back wide receiver Greg Little. It’s a tryout, just as it was last month during the three-day rookie mini-camp.

Little, who turned 29 in May, last played in the NFL in 2014.

“Just an opportunity once again to see him live, see what he can do,” Wilks said of the former second-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns. “I think he has tremendous talent, but most importantly right here, is just a chance for him to be able to step up and see what we can do with him.”

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