Dealing Cards: Johnson’s replacement(s), Veldheer not moving
TEMPE, Ariz. – Filling running back David Johnson’s shoes is next to impossible.
Players with the ability to gain 100 all-purpose yards each and every week, seemingly at will, are not easy to find; hence, Johnson’s value to the offense.
The Arizona Cardinals, then, are forced to go running back-by-committee.
Backup Kerwynn Williams is expected to see his role increase. Of course, he also handles kickoff and punt return duties, so Andre Ellington and Elijhaa Penny will see time as well.
Once upon a time, Ellington was the Cardinals’ featured back. As a rookie in 2013 and again in 2014, he totaled 1,000-plus yards from scrimmage, joining Johnson and Ottis Anderson as the only players in franchise history to reach that mark in each of their first two NFL seasons.
“Looks like I have to step up, Kerwynn has to step up,” Ellington said on Monday. “We’ll be ready to do it.”
Williams carried the ball five times for 10 yards, including a touchdown, in Johnson’s absence at Detroit. Ellington and Penny did not receive any touches out of the backfield.
Penny played mostly special teams in what was his NFL debut.
“It’s bad. It’s unfortunate,” he said, referring to Johnson’s injury, “but I know we’ve got good running backs in the room. We feel like we can pick up the slack when a guy like David goes down.
“Just be ready and just be prepared for the opportunity to come.”
Johnson is expected to miss at least eight weeks with a dislocated wrist. He and the Cardinals, though, are waiting on a second opinion before a definitive timetable and hopeful plan for a return can be established.
Johnson hurt himself on a third-quarter 24-yard reception that set up Williams’ touchdown.
Johnson returned one series later only to fumble the football.
“At the time, the actual hit, we thought he had the wind knocked out of him, but we could tell something was wrong because he wasn’t really holding the ball the same,” Ellington said.
As of Monday, neither Ellington nor Penny had been told of the team’s plans on how they’ll move forward without Johnson. Bringing back veteran Chris Johnson is a possibility, according to head coach Bruce Arians. There are also reports suggesting the Cardinals will sign running back D.J. Foster off the New England Patriots practice squad.
Whatever the option, or options, may be, this much is true: It’s going to take a lot more than just one player to replace Johnson, and even that may not be enough.
“It just leaves a lot of the other guys with more opportunities,” Ellington said. “It’s some huge shoes to fill. We’re more than capable of doing it, but as an offense, we just got to pull ourselves together and execute better.”
Jared Veldheer won’t move
It wasn’t just Johnson the Cardinals lost in Week 1. Left tackle D.J. Humphries injured his right knee in the first quarter. An MRI on Monday showed a MCL strain.
“He’s pretty optimistic about everything,” right tackle Jared Veldheer said, after speaking with Humphries earlier in the day.
Humphries will miss one, maybe two weeks, according to Arians. And because the injury is not expected to be long-term, Veldheer will not be moved. Arians made that clear when addressing reporters.
John Wetzel, who replaced Humphries against the Lions, will be the one who plays left tackle.
“I haven’t talked to anybody about any switches or anything,” Veldheer said.
Left tackle had been Veldheer’s spot on the offensive line for the past three seasons, right up until he hurt his triceps midway through 2016.
In the offseason, the Cardinals made the decision to swap their tackles. So Sunday, Veldheer played right tackle for the first time in a regular season game.
“I feel like going through all of OTAs and training camp, I had been there long enough where I could just go out and not think that I’m at a new position. I could just go kind play a little bit, and it felt good to be able to do that,” he said.
Despite the Cardinals loss, Penny was able to celebrate this weekend.
”Saturday was fun,” he said, smiling.
From his hotel room in Detroit, Penny followed social media as his younger brother, Rashaad, helped lead San Diego State to a victory over Arizona State.
“Kerwynn was my roommate so I know he was probably tripping on me like, ‘Why are you screaming so loud?’ I was excited,” he said. “I couldn’t see the game but I seen everybody tweeting and everything. It was exciting to see him do that out here in Arizona, too.”
Rashaad Penny scored three touchdowns—rushing, receiving and a 99-yard kickoff return—and totaled 353 all-purpose yards in San Diego State’s 30-20 win.
“If he ain’t going to have a big game on the ground then it’s going to be receiving. He kind of reminds me a lot of like David,” Penny said. “He can catch the ball well, he run the ball well; and then if you’re going to stop on him offense, then I’m pretty sure you aren’t going to stop him on special teams. I’m just waiting to see him play (next week) against Stanford.”