After David Johnson, Cardinals keeping offensive plans close to vest
TEMPE, Ariz. — There’s no point in hiding the obvious.
Running back David Johnson, mended wrist and all, will carry, jump-cut and catch the Arizona Cardinals to success or failure in 2018. He’s plenty motivated.
He’s yet to reach a contract extension with the team as of Wednesday, four days before Arizona opens the year by hosting the Washington Redskins. The fourth-year pro, as humbly as one can, has his own goals, including becoming the third player ever to surpass the 1,000-yard rushing and 1,000-yard receiving mark for a single season.
He’s got something to prove.
“Obviously I want the contract to be done as soon as possible,” Johnson said. “That’s a little bit of a motivation. But there’s so much other stuff, the injury and everything that I’m going to prove — and with a contract, that’s another thing. I’m definitely going to have that in the back of my head when I play.
“I’m very excited though. Coaches really let us know we need to be physical, start at the line of scrimmage, be able to ground-and-pound.”
Ah, yes. Johnson and a reloaded offensive line of four players who were first-round picks — plus rookie third-round pick Mason Cole at center — want to pave defenses like road graders.
“I think it’s always important they reflect their draft status,” head coach Steve Wilks said dryly. “I think if you look at the offensive line, I think they’ve proven that.”
Beyond that, what are these 2018 Cardinals?
The preseason glimpses of the packages involving receivers moving between X, Y and Z, two tight ends and a fullback allude to an enticing array of possibilities. But the Cardinals’ head coach and their two offensive leaders not named Larry Fitzgerald wouldn’t offer much more on Wednesday.
“Hopefully touchdowns, hopefully moving the chains, hopefully converting on third down, hopefully scoring in the red zone and not kicking field goals,” Wilks joked.
Once he dropped the sarcasm, his only hope was for execution. Wilks also suggested the team will “spread the ball around.”
At the head of that discussion, nobody outside Arizona expects much out of quarterback Sam Bradford, who reiterated he’s ready to go after a long recovery from knee surgery that began after Week 2 of last season when he was a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
Bradford flashed accuracy in the preseason, completing 8-of-11 passes for 73 yards while working out of quick three-step drops to help him avoid standing in the pocket and taking punishment. Also over the exhibitions, Arizona bullied opponents’ defensive lines on eight Johnson carries for 50 yards.
But even how Arizona will use Johnson is unknown. The Cardinals running back caught one pass for five yards in two preseason games.
“In the preseason, obviously we were pretty vanilla,” Bradford said. “We kind of lined up and did what we did. There weren’t really a lot of wrinkles used in the preseason. I would look to see a little bit of a different look.”
Not very telling.
How many touches and how much will the Cardinals lean on their star running back who is coming off a season-ending injury?
“Um, we’ll find out,” Bradford added. “Obviously, David, he’s one of the best offensive football players in the league and you know, we’re going to look to use him in a number of ways and to try to get him as many touches as he can handle.”
On Wednesday, maybe the most intel into offensive coordinator Mike McCoy’s plans came from Johnson himself, who seemed assured he will be featured often and diversely.
“I hope so. It seems that way,” he said. “We have, also, other weapons, but I feel like I will be a big contributor to the offense.”
— Defensive end Markus Golden was the only player who did not participate in practice on Wednesday. Wilks said he is progressing but said that if “a guy is not practicing by Thursday it’s tough for them to be ready for the game.”
— The Cardinals players voted Fitzgerald, Bradford, Patrick Peterson, Chandler Jones, Corey Peters, Antoine Bethea and Phil Dawson as team captains for the season.
— Sam Bradford, on what he’s seen from second-year WR Chad Williams: “Chad, he’s got all the tools to be a great receiver. Just his speed, his physicality. He’s won a number of contested one-on-one balls in training camp. He’s a guy who’s really strong at the catch point. If he gets his hands on it, he’s usually coming down with it.”