TEMPE, Ariz. — Sunday afternoon in Glendale, Arizona Cardinals running back Chris Johnson will see his first snap of the 2015 season.
A 29-year-old running back (30 on Sept. 23) with three Pro Bowl appearances, there was a time recently when he was not sure he would ever get back on an NFL field. Johnson was part of a drive-by shooting in March, with the incident leaving one person dead and Johnson with a bullet wound in his shoulder.
“Whenever the situation first happened, or whatever, I kind of thought that was going to be my last time actually playing football,” he said. “To be able to work back and be able to be playing and being able to run out there Sunday, it will feel good.”
Given that Johnson has not actually missed any football, getting into the game Sunday may not necessarily qualify as a comeback. However, considering what he has gone through, it’s a moment that should not be discounted.
“A lot of crying, all that,” Johnson said of how he handled the feelings of possibly never playing again. “But it was a situation where I just had to pray to God and stuff like that, and continue to work and work hard. It was a lot of nights crying myself to sleep and all that, but I turned it around, worked hard, got back and they gave me an opportunity with Arizona.
“I’m just glad to be able to go out there on Sunday.”
According to the Cardinals’ depth chart, Johnson is the second-string running back behind starter Andre Ellington. The veteran admitted to not having a complete grasp of the team’s playbook, as the system is different than anything he was used to, at least in the passing game. He understands that will limit how much of a role he has in the offense, but he feels good that when he does get on the field, he will be effective.
Last season, with the Jets, he ran for 663 yards and one touchdown, both of which were career lows. He hasn’t had much of an opportunity since the end of the 2014 campaign to show how much he has left in the tank, and after battling a hamstring injury shortly after signing with the Cardinals was left with just one preseason game to put on tape.
He gained 45 yards on 11 carries against the Denver Broncos while catching one pass for a 10-yard gain. And it was the reception, he said, that told him he was back to being his old self as he was able to make a move and show some burst.
“I’m ready to go now,” he said he felt.
That along with the last month or so since he signed with the team have done a lot to improve his confidence. After a down year with the Jets was followed by a challenging offseason, he needed it.
“It’s done a lot to me,” he said. “First coming in, pulling my hamstring had to sit out, but once I was able to actually play in a real game and take some hits and make a couple runs and catch a couple balls or whatever like that, it helped me out a lot.”
Now, the plan is for Johnson to help the Cardinals. Though he is happy to be able to play again, the running back is entering the season with some expectations, albeit not really of the personal variety.
“Just to help this team try to get back to the playoffs and win a Super Bowl,” he said. “My last time going to the playoffs was my rookie year, and just knowing how good they did last year, I just want to come in and help them get back and try to win a Super Bowl.”
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