Cardinals WR KeeSean Johnson’s route running key to early camp success
It’s no secret that the 2019 Arizona Cardinals offense will be entirely different than the 2018 version.
New head coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie quarterback Kyler Murray will be at the helm of the team’s new Air Raid offense, an attack that spreads the field with four- and five-receiver sets. Kingsbury has said that the Cardinals could keep six to seven receivers on the depth chart, especially after drafting three in this year’s draft.
One of those draft picks is KeeSean Johnson, who was taken with the first pick of the sixth round (No. 174 overall), and has already begun to turn heads in the early stages of Cardinals training camp.
The secret to Johnson’s early success? His route running.
“Being consistent and making sure the quarterback knows where you’re going to be,” Johnson told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Burns & Gambo on Monday of what makes a great route runner.
“It’s about getting with them and making sure you’re comfortable with each other. You have to work really hard to have that timing and consistency. When I first started playing receiver, my coach told me I’m a natural, but it’s only going to get better with more coaching.”
Johnson was the 19th receiver taken in the 2019 NFL Draft out of Fresno State, one of only three offers he received out of high school. The rookie wide receiver finished his college career with back-to-back seasons of 75-plus receptions, 1,000-plus yards and eight touchdowns, the latter of which saw him catch 95 of 120 targets for 1,340 yards in 14 games (95.7 a game).
“It puts an extra chip on my shoulder to help me do the things I want to do and help the team win,” Johnson said of his draft position. “The things you’ve seen from other receivers made me think I’d be drafted higher, but I’m here now and that’s what matters.
“I can’t say what it was. It might have been the [40-yard dash time]. At the end of the day, I’m here, and I’m going to give Arizona everything I’ve got.”
Johnson has definitely caught the attention of offensive play-caller Kingsbury, as he is the only rookie wideout to be receiving a significant amount of first-team reps.
“I just go in when Coach tells me to go in and I try to make a play they’ll remember,” Johnson said. “I like the offense. We have a lot of guys who are competing, and there are a lot of things I can learn from older guys like Christian [Kirk] and Larry [Fitzgerald] to help my game. I’m just trying to take it all in.
“[Johnson and Murray] have made some strides. He tells me certain things to do on certain routes. We just have to stay consistent and work together more and more.”
But the sixth-round pick isn’t letting all the praise and hype get to his head. The soon-to-be 23-year-old is determined to continue the work ethic that has gotten him to this point in his football-playing career.
“It feels good, but you can’t get caught up in those things,” Johnson said of receiving praise. “You have to come to work every day trying to prove yourself. You can hear about it from friends, but every day is a new for me. You have to come in and keep working. It’s something that my dad and I talk about, not getting caught up in the media.”
Johnson will get to show his receiving and route running skills on Thursday night when the Cardinals host the Los Angeles Chargers in the team’s first preseason game.
“[I’m excited],” Johnson said. “It’s the first time playing in front of the crowd. Being able to play in an NFL environment is going to be a great experience.”
Kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. and will be aired on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.