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David Johnson’s role on Cardinals remains murky after Bucs game

David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals drops a pass during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on November 10, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — In words, Arizona Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury didn’t reveal how he’ll utilize running backs David Johnson and Kenyan Drake moving forward.

In actions, the decision to hold out Johnson in favor of Drake after the former player fumbled in the third quarter of a tie game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers said something.

Johnson, who was coming off a nearly three-game absence due to an ankle injury, isn’t exactly his 2016 self.

“We just felt like with Drake, (he) needed to get something going and kept him rollin’,” Kingsbury said Monday after the 30-27 loss. “He’s … brought a little pop to the run game, the pass game, and we felt like he was the guy to try and close the game out with.”

Drake took 10 carries for 35 yards and was targeted seven times in the passing game, making six catches for six total yards. He earned 45 snaps to Johnson’s 30 on the day.

Johnson took half the number of carries for two yards and was targeted just once for an eight-yard catch.

Kingsbury added injury wasn’t the reason for Johnson standing on the sideline after his fumble. The head coach did, however, suggest that the ankle and perhaps a prior back injury have kept Johnson from looking like his explosive self.

“I think he’s obviously been hampered by some of those injuries. He’s still working through those and getting a feel for it,” Kingsbury said.

Later Monday on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Bickley & Marotta, Kingsbury added Johnson might be downplaying how he feels.

“You respect that about him, and he’s going to give you everything he’s got. But I just think he’s got to get his football legs underneath him, and that’s what we’re working through,” Kingsbury said.

What is clear is that Johnson will continue to play.

How much could depend on the gameplan and how Kingsbury can slot Johnson in to complement Drake, who has 203 total yards through two games with Arizona.

“We just acquired Kenyan and I think that’s trying to figure out the best possible rotation and who does what best is always a challenge,” Kingsbury said. “It’s two very serviceable backs, two guys who can be gamebreakers at any time. You like to have a problem with that.”

Arizona’s coach said the team will put the best players on the field each week, starting Sunday in a visit to the San Francisco 49ers.

Mixing Johnson and Drake into gameplans will get even more complicated for Kingsbury when fellow running back Chase Edmonds eventually returns from a hamstring injury. That, Kingsbury said, is expected in “the near future,” though the coach stopped short of predicting Edmonds would play this Sunday.

For the season, Johnson is behind quarterback Kyler Murray in total rushing yards with 302, but he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.

Edmonds (5.1 yards per carry) and Drake (5.8 yards per carry), have showed more explosiveness in fewer opportunities.

Johnson, however, has been a force in the passing game, ranking third on the team in targets (42) and receiving yards (323) despite missing nearly three full games.

Extra points

— The team has considered shutting down rookie defensive end Zach Allen, who has dealt with a stinger injury since Week 4. As it stands, the Cardinals have targeted after the bye for a potential return and hope he can earn valuable game reps rather than missing the rest of the year.

— Cornerback Patrick Peterson is day to day with a calf injury suffered Sunday. Kingsbury suggested that there’s a good chance Peterson can return after a Week 12 bye, if not this week at San Francisco.

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