TEMPE, Ariz. — Chris Johnson received his first touch of the the 2015 season in the second quarter of the Cardinals’ 31-19 victory over the New Orleans Saints Sunday, picking up six yards on a run to the left while giving starter Andre Ellington a breather.
With that moment, and the ensuing game, Johnson put the most trying offseason of his career in the rearview mirror.
“I remember first time this offseason, I think it was Week 1 of preseason — I don’t remember where I was, I was out somewhere — and I saw the preseason games come on and I didn’t realize it started that early, because it was the Hall of Fame Game,” Johnson, who was unsigned at the time, said Monday. “And I’m like, ‘Man, preseason has started and I’m still at home on the couch or whatever,’ it was crazy.
“I was like, ‘I’ve got to get back to football,’ so [Sunday] being able to go out there and play and just sit there, like, I got the first one out of the way, I can get back to normal now.”
And while Johnson entered the Arizona Cardinals’ matchup with the New Orleans Saints as the backup running back, he may have left is the new starter.
Ellington went down with what has been diagnosed as a mild PCL sprain, with one report saying he will be back on the field in two to three weeks. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Monday he wouldn’t rule Ellington out of the team’s next game, a road tilt Sunday with the Chicago Bears, but added that if he does miss the game, the veteran Johnson will get the start.
Johnson, who has essentially been a starting running back for the duration of his eight-year career, said his approach won’t change if he is asked to be the lead back.
“I look forward to it,” he said. “There’s situations in this league where a goes down and the next person has got to be ready.
“It’s a situaution where I always prepare myself like I’m getting 20, 25 touches every game, so it’s not a situation where I have to change my mindset or change the way I get ready for the game. Just continue to practice hard and be ready.”
Arians said if Johnson is the guy, the offense won’t be altered much. The whole idea behind signing the former New York Jet and Tennessee Titan and adding him to a backfield that already included third-round draft pick David Johnson was that if Ellington was injured or needed some rest, the team could plug in one of the backups and not miss a beat.
“Nothing slowed down when Chris Johnson got in,” right tackle Earl Watford said. “Nothing needs to be changed, we just go out there and do what we’re supposed to do.”
Sunday, Ellington paced the Cardinals with 69 yards on 12 carries, while Chris Johnson tallied 37 yards on 10 attempts.
“I thought he was fine,” Arians said of Johnson’s performance. “He hit his holes. He missed one on a play he’s not used to running, but overall he was solid.”
Johnson, who ran for 2,006 yards in 2009 and topped the 1,000-yard mark in his first six NFL seasons, felt the same way.
“I think I did OK,” he said. “I think I could have done better on a couple runs but for the most part just sitting around the whole game and then just jumping in the fourth quarter, I think I did OK.”
In theory, the more carries Johnson gets the better he will run. He’ll have a better chance to get into a bit of a groove and, of course, with his speed there is the chance of a long run every time he touches the ball.
In the fourth quarter Sunday, after Ellington left for good, Johnson had runs of 12, five, six, two, four, -1 and two yards, which averages out to 4.29 yards per carry.
Johnson said it was “pretty good” being on the field receiving consecutive carries as the Cardinals were trying to cement a victory. It’s a role he is familiar with, and one he may very well have to reprise.
Even if he does, the 29-year-old isn’t quite ready to say he’s back or in midseason form. He’s getting more comfortable with the playbook and slowly getting used to being a football player again, but he’s not quite where he would like to be.
“Right now I’m still going through the nicks and pains of just when you start training camp because you know I showed up late,” he said. “So it’s just a situation of still going through that now, but I know the more I play, the more I practice, I’ll be alright.”