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Reading between the lines: What is David Johnson’s role in near future?

Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the football against the Detroit Lions during the first half of the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on September 08, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Lions and Cardinals tied 27-27. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — For the next two weeks, what role David Johnson will play for the Arizona Cardinals will be up to the imagination.

Arizona enters the bye week with Kenyan Drake coming off a 61-snap, 22-touch performance. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is hopeful running back Chase Edmonds can return from a hamstring injury against the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 1.

How they fit with and around Johnson, however, is unclear. Johnson appeared for nine snaps Sunday and didn’t touch the ball in a 36-26 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

After Kingsbury spoke to the media Monday and took a series of questions about Johnson’s status, here’s what we do know:

Johnson hardly played after his best week of practice

In his return from a sprained ankle two weeks ago in Tampa Bay, Johnson received 43% of the snaps, taking the backseat to Drake.

Then he had his best week of practice in the words of Kingsbury, who added that Drake and Johnson would be used by committee.

That was a stretch. Kingsbury played Johnson just 11% of the snaps Sunday in San Francisco.

“Week to week, gameplans change,” Kingsbury said Monday. “Like I said after the game, felt like Drake was the hot hand and we rode with him. David’s a very good football player and we’ll try to put him in position to be successful.”

Asked how he quantifies a hot hand, Kingsbury had this most telling answer:

“Playing well, being productive. Run game, pass game, blocking well, protections. Playing at the level that we felt like gave us a chance to win the game.”

Johnson (and family) express frustration over social media

Following Arizona’s loss to the 49ers, Johnson left a cryptic message on his Twitter feed. And whether it was about the result of the game or his role within it, it spoke volumes.

His wife, Meghan, made it more clear that she was disappointed by Johnson’s reduced role.

“In EIGHT football seasons… that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to watch. SO MUCH TALENT. On a bench. we love you @davidjohnson31,” she captioned a post on her Instagram account.

 

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We love you @davidjohnson31

A post shared by Meghan Johnson (@meghantjohnson) on

Those two posts might spell concern for the Cardinals, who owe Johnson a base salary of $10.2 million next year and $8.0 million if he remains on the roster for the 2021 season past next March 20, per Spotrac.

Yet Kingsbury said Monday he does not worry about Johnson’s frame of mind moving forward.

“I don’t. I don’t,” the head coach said. “He’s a pro, very hard worker, and I don’t.”

Kingsbury affirms Johnson is part of the offense

While Kingsbury admits the gameplans for the rest of 2019 could call for more or less Johnson, depending on matchups, he also pushed back against the notion that the Cardinals will continue phasing Johnson out of a major role.

“We know we have three really good players. More than anything, how do we fit those three guys in and maximize who they are and how they help our offense?” Kingsbury said. “With Chase hopefully coming back soon, that’s the challenge for the offensive staff.”

Kingsbury also pushed back when he was asked about what Johnson’s role will be moving forward.

“I wouldn’t use the term benched,” he said. “David is a part of this offense and we have to find a way to make sure he’s playing at a high level and we can get him the football.”

Might Johnson be able to get more snaps with Edmonds and Drake in the mix if he slides over to a wide receiver slot? Could Arizona carve out more of a hybrid role for him?

If that’s an option, Kingsbury wasn’t allowing the Cardinals’ post-bye week opponents to begin planning for it.

“Our views on how we use him and where he goes haven’t changed,” Kingsbury said.

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