Next man up.
It’s been the mantra of the Arizona Cardinals ever since Bruce Arians took over at the helm in 2013.
The Cardinals took that to heart last season, taking hits at key positions such as quarterback, running back and on the defensive front seven, going down to the third and even fourth guy on the depth chart.
This season, the team has already seen a couple of key injuries on the offensive side of the football in losing wide receiver Michael Floyd for all of training camp, though he is now healthy and played a small role in last week’s game, and offensive lineman Mike Iupati who has been out with a knee injury.
The newest member to the Cardinals injury report is running back Andre Ellington, who is expected to miss no more than three weeks with a mild sprain of the PCL. Ellington has not been ruled out this week, though it remains unlikely he will play against the Chicago Bears.
That leaves running back Chris Johnson as the “next man up”, which has quarterback Carson Palmer excited to see what the veteran back has left in the tank.
“I think more than anything and this isn’t a knock on Andre (Ellington) at all because I love Andre and he’s a fantastic player,” Palmer said. “But I can’t wait to see Chris (Johnson) run the ball.”
Johnson is a three-time Pro Bowler and was named the NFL AP Offensive Player of the Year in 2009 while playing with the Tennessee Titans.
That was the year that Johnson ran for 2,006 yards, nearly breaking the NFL single-season rushing record.
He has ran for 8,665 yards overall through his seven-year career with the Titans and New York Jets, giving him credibility in the locker room that Johnson can do the job while Ellington remains out.
“He’s studied so hard and is so smart and has picked up protections since day one that I think a bigger thing for him is getting the football in his hands,” Palmer said. “Obviously practice is big for everybody, he is one of those veterans that doesn’t have to practice. He’s really smart, he gets it, understands protections and understands what the offensive line is trying to do.”
The soon to be 30-year old ran for a career-low 663 yards with the Jets last season, though he averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry on a bad Jets team.
He only started six of 16 games, which left some to believe that Johnson’s NFL days were numbered. The Cardinals didn’t think so, and their belief in Johnson put them in a strong position should Ellington get injured, which he has.
Last week, Johnson ran for 37 yards on 10 carries in the Cardinals opening day 31-19 win over the New Orleans Saints, but Palmer feels like his numbers could be much higher if he gets the bulk amount of carries.
“I think more than anything he just needs the ball in his hands and the opportunity to break tackles,” Palmer said. “We saw in Denver, as the game went on and his carries went up he got better each carry.
“I am looking forward to that the most. I think practice is great, but he is one of those guys that the longer you feed him, and the more opportunities he gets, the better the chances are he rips one off for 30 or 60 yards.”