Early as it is, Cardinals feel good about offense built around David Johnson
GLENDALE, Ariz. — For as little as one preseason game might glean about the Arizona Cardinals, they can at least say the offseason money spent and the identity they wanted to nurture throughout training camp shined Saturday in a preseason-opening win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Yes, running back David Johnson ripped two 14-yard runs, looking like he hadn’t missed a beat since injuring his wrist in Week 1 of last season.
But it wasn’t about his healthy wrist as much as it was about eight teammates forging a channel through the Chargers’ defense for him.
“I was really pumped up about how easy it was for me to get through those holes. The holes were gaping holes,” Johnson said Monday.
The left side of the offensive line, including tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Mike Iupati, are healthy after their seasons each ended prematurely. Rookie center Mason Cole held up well. First-round talents Justin Pugh and Andre Smith played well in limited action after the Cardinals went after O-line upgrades in free agency.
Larry Fitzgerald, whose late-career emergence had a lot to do with his evolution as an inside receiver, was back at it blocking in first-year offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s system.
And leading the way for Johnson was fullback Derrick Coleman, another free agent addition.
“It made me feel very excited and very confident about the season coming up,” Johnson said of Arizona’s addition of a fullback and attention to the offensive line this offseason. “I love it. I was very excited to see Derrick Coleman and Eli (Penny) at fullback and us bringing fullback into the game, because in college it worked very well.”
It appears Arizona will use those two plays that sparked a touchdown drive as a building block.
It’s a good one to start with considering Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy have attempted to build Arizona’s culture around a downhill-oriented offensive attack.
“I thought they did a great job coming off the ball and getting to the second level,” Wilks said Monday.
All that said, don’t expect the Cardinals to settle in as a one-dimensional offense.
Despite the power-running mantra from Wilks and a small shred of evidence of a televised game, the Cardinals expect to become more balanced in the weeks ahead after starting quarterback Sam Bradford only attempted a single pass Saturday.
And yes, that passing attack will include Johnson.
“It’s coming soon,” the running back said Monday.
But make no mistake: the Cardinals’ success in the run game will dictate how dangerous they become.
“I finally have been baptized by David Johnson and what he is as a running back,” Pugh told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo on Monday. “It’s two runs. You don’t want to get too high or low.
“Obviously we’re going to be multiple (depending on) where we’re at in the game. But where we were there made sense,” the right guard added. “I think building that M.O. makes sense.”
“I’m not really concerned about it. I think we have a good group. They made progress all the way back to OTAs and minicamp. It was an opportunity to see where we are right now. We need to improve with our second offensive line. I think we have some guys in that second group that’s going to step up and perform well.” — Wilks on if he is concerned about the depth on the offensive line
— Sam Bradford took a veteran’s day off on Monday, giving rookie quarterback Josh Rosen extended reps with the first and second teams.
— Safety Tre Boston picked off a Rosen pass during a hurry-up 11-on-11 drill.
— Cornerback Bene Benwikere, who had a forced fumble and near interception on Saturday against the Chargers, got into a sideline scuffle with receiver Carlton Agudosi during a team drill. Wilks and other staffers quickly broke it up.
— Scooby Wright remained with the first team at linebacker as Deone Bucannon (knee) and Josh Bynes (neck) remained sidelined. Arizona used a three-safety look with Antoine Bethea, Budda Baker and Boston playing alongside Wright and Haason Reddick at linebacker.