David Johnson ‘ran real well’ in debut for Arizona Cardinals

Aug 22, 2015, 11:52 PM
Arizona Cardinals' David Johnson (31) gets tackled by San Diego Chargers' Lowell Rose, left, and Ka...

Arizona Cardinals' David Johnson (31) gets tackled by San Diego Chargers' Lowell Rose, left, and Kavell Conner during the first half of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — David Johnson spent most of training camp on the sideline with a hamstring injury, only recently returning to the field. His role in practice grew over the course of the past week, and Saturday the Arizona Cardinals were finally able to unleash the running back whom they chose in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft out of Northern Iowa.

And though it is only preseason, it’s safe to say it was worth the wait.

Johnson touched the ball 15 times in the game, which Arizona lost to San Diego by a score of 22-19. He turned his 13 carries into 66 yards, while his two receptions accounted for another 15.

All-in-all, it was a good start.

“I thought after he quit dancing and he got out of the dance studio, he ran real well,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “If you learn to play football and he runs straight ahead, he’s powerful and fast so he learned quickly not to dance.”

Arians was commenting on Johnson’s first few carries, which went for two, three and one yard, respectively. However, his fourth went for 13, and from there he was off and running — pun intended.

“As the game started going, progressing, I felt a little bit better,” Johnson said. “Started slowing down a little bit more, started reading the holes a little bit more. Just helping out the offense.”

Johnson got a lot of work with the Cardinals’ first-team offense, which undoubtedly helped. The fact that Johnson had so much success was a testament to them, too, as they were opening holes for the rookie to run through.

“It felt great,” guard Jonathan Cooper said. “That has been the biggest emphasis the coaches have, that we will be able to run the ball this year. To be able to do that a little bit and sustain some long drives was pretty solid.”

For a team that ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing yards last season and just one time had a runner crack the 100-yard mark, Saturday’s effort was certainly a nice sign. Along with Johnson, Andre Ellington gained 12 yards on two carries. Chris Johnson, who was expected to see his first game action with the team Saturday night, was out with a hamstring injury.

“I think just sticking with it,” center A.Q. Shipley said of the run game working. “At the end of the day, I think that’s been an emphasis this offseason is trying to run the ball and get the running game going, and we’ve got to stay committed to it and just stick to it and that’s what we did in the first half.”

Shipley pointed to the fact that the Cardinals did not always pick up big chunks of yardage but were always moving forward in the run game, which left them in some manageable third-down situations.

“We’ve just got to stay committed to it, and that’s what we’ve been emphasizing this whole training camp and moving forward we’ll do the same thing,” he said.

Speaking of moving forward, as Arians said, that’s the key for Johnson.

Arians said he had a nice talk with Johnson about dancing.

“He can go out on Dancing With the Stars if he wants to dance,” the coach said. “As big and fast as he is, take your foot on the ground and give me four yards or more, and we’ll come. I thought he ran really, really well after that.”

Arians admitted Johnson looking a tad skittish in the backfield is common for young running backs, who can usually outrun cornerbacks and linebackers in college but have no such luck in the NFL. So really, his initial struggles can be chalked up to a rookie running back learning his way as a professional.

That’s the idea, anyway.

Room for improvement? Of course. But as far as first impressions go, Johnson’s was a good one. It was nice to get on the field and play some football.

“I couldn’t wait to get out there and show what I had to bring to the game,” he said. “Hopefully, I can get better, learn from the film, continue talking to [running backs coach Stump Mitchell], continue talking to Carson (Palmer) and B.A., and learn from everything.”

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