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Dealing Cards: The new voice in David Johnson’s head

Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks coach Freddie Kitchens, left, talks with quarterbacks including Drew Stanton (5) at NFL football training camp practice on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Sometimes change can be good.

Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians made a change to his coaching staff in the offseason, shifting Freddie Kitchens’ responsibilities from quarterbacks to running backs.

On the surface, it was not a major move yet a significant one, especially for David Johnson, who as he enters his third pro season is hearing from a different voice for the first time.

“Different perspective,” he said. “Freddie was our quarterbacks coach last year so he’s able to teach us more of what the quarterback is looking for, especially on routes and the plays in general; and then he’s also able to let us know how the blocking scheme is — Stump (Mitchell) was really good at doing that. Stump was really good at teaching me technique, so is Freddie. They’re both really good coaches.”

Back in February, Mitchell joined the New York Jets, taking a similar position with Todd Bowles’ staff.

It was Mitchell who told Johnson, then a rookie, that he should be a hall of famer once his playing days are over.

It was with Mitchell with whom Johnson enjoyed an All-Pro 2016 season, leading the NFL and establishing new franchise marks in both scrimmage yards (2,118) and touchdowns (20).

Though it’s been some time, Kitchens does have experience coaching running backs, just not on the pro level. He coached that position group in college, at Mississippi State (2005) and North Texas (2001-03).

Kitchens is entering his 11th season with the Cardinals, the past four coaching quarterbacks after a six-year stint working with tight ends.

“The biggest thing I take away is his knowledge of the game,” Johnson said, “especially coming from a quarterback’s perspective: what he’s looking at, if I’m coming out of a route, what the quarterback is expecting me to do.”

The more you can do

Every player wants to start, or at least play significant snaps each week.

The offensive line doesn’t work that way, however. Continuity is key. So for those linemen not on the field, they have to stay ready to play at a moment’s notice.

Welcome to John Wetzel’s world.

Already this training camp, Wetzel, who is beginning his second full season with the Cardinals, has lined up at three different positions with the first-team offense — the latest, left guard.

“Just wherever they need me to play, I’ll do what I can,” he said. “I’m mainly doing tackle this camp, but I’ve done guard before and I feel better doing it this time than last time so whatever the team needs me to do.”

Replacing the injured Mike Iupati, left guard is where Wetzel expects to be when the Cardinals visit Atlanta on Saturday. A year ago, he played right guard against the Falcons.

Wetzel made eight starts at three different positions last season: left tackle, right guard and right tackle.

Arians on Wednesday called Wetzel the sixth man on the offensive line.

“Being undrafted, you kind of got to know everything,” said Wetzel, who had stops with the Raiders, Cowboys and Colts before the Cardinals signed him to the practice squad in December 2015. “I started off, if I want to make a team, I got to be able to know everything and work at different positions.”

Asked where he preferred to play and Wetzel answered, “Kind of wherever I can play is what I prefer.”

OK, then how about center?

“I don’t know about center,” he said, smiling. “I could try, but at 6-7, it might be a little difficult.”

One last open practice

With Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey watching from the sidelines, the Cardinals held their last practice open to the public on Wednesday. The team worked for just over two hours in shells inside University of Phoenix Stadium.

Ducey was a guest of team president Michael Bidwill.

At different points during practice, Arians, Johnson, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Patrick Peterson walked over a brief chat. Johnson was introduced to the Governor by Fitzgerald.

Among the other highlights:

— After a day off, quarterback Carson Palmer looked sharp. He had one 22-yard touchdown pass to Jaron Brown, who clearly has become the Cardinals’ No. 2 receiver. John Brown was again absent due to a funeral.

— Fitzgerald made a one-handed diving grab for the catch of the day, and perhaps of camp.

— Mr. Irrelevant back in 2015, tight end Gerald Christian flashed, catching a touchdown from Blaine Gabbert and reaching down low to snag another pass.

— The defense got its hands on plenty of balls but likely should’ve had several interceptions. Antoine Bethea, Justin Bethel, Zaviar Gooden and Brandon Williams were among those who missed. Haason Reddick deflected a pass attempt in the red zone.

— There was a brief scare when safety Budda Baker went down. He appeared to hurt his left leg and received some attention from head athletic trainer Tom Reed. Baker, however, never left the field and returned to practice a short time later.

— Per usual, the first 30 minutes were devoted to special teams, specifically kickoffs. Phil Dawson booted several kicks into the end zone, some six, seven and eight yards deep. Shorter and onside kicks were attempted, too.

On the injury front, linebacker Karlos Dansby saw more action. When he was not on the field, Gooden and Josh Bynes rotated first-team snaps at inside linebacker next to Reddick.

Iupati (triceps) and Kerwynn Williams (foot) missed their second straight practice. Cornerback Tramon Williams did not practice for unknown reasons. Dollar linebacker Deone Bucannon (ankle) and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche were out along with linebacker Jarvis Jones (back) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (hamstring).

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