TEMPE, Ariz. — One is entering his ninth NFL season, the other only his second.
One belongs to the exclusive 2,000-yard club, the other is projected to someday rush for half that in a single season.
Together, Chris Johnson and David Johnson are expected to man the Arizona Cardinals’ backfield in 2016.
“I feel like me and him can probably be the best tandem in the NFL this year,” Chris Johnson said.
Strong words, yes, but Johnson, who in 2009 became the sixth player ever to surpass 2,000 rushing yards in a single season, may be on to something there; provided, of course, the two running backs remain healthy.
For Chris Johnson, that was an issue a year ago, when a broken tibia ended his season in Week 12. Despite the shortened season, he finished as the Cardinals’ leading rusher with 814 yards, including four 100-yard games, the most by a Cardinal in a single season in 30 years.
And this from a player who was signed three weeks into training camp.
When Johnson got hurt, David Johnson assumed the starter’s role and rushed for 442 of his 581 yards in the last five games, plus added 95 yards on the ground in the playoffs.
His 13 total touchdowns not only led the team and set the franchise rookie record, but led all rookies in the NFL and tied for the fifth-best season total in Cardinals history.
Fast forward to 2016 and the question becomes how good can the two be together?
“We’ll be great together,” David Johnson said. “C.J. continues to help me out in my running, continues to teach some of the tips of the trade of how to run the ball and make it easier for me and the linemen blocking.”
What kind of tips?
“Just being patient because in college it’s more of just trying to hit the hole I felt like, but now it’s more of being patient,” he said. “Setting up the blocks is a huge thing with how fast the defenses are and how much faster and stronger everyone is on the other side of the ball.”
A third-round pick in 2015, Johnson said he became more patient running the ball with each rep he received last season.
Chris Johnson, though, is always in his ear.
“When you come in from college, coming into the NFL, you like to just get (the football) and hit the hole or whatever,” Chris Johnson said, “so a lot of times you got to be more patient with a lot of the run plays and stuff like that.”
The two Johnsons talk regularly, whether on the field or in the locker room.
During organized team activities, Chris Johnson, 30, will often offer up a quick instruction to all of the Cardinals running backs.
“We got some great players in the running back room,” he said, referring to Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor, Kerwynn Williams and rookie Elijhaa Perry. “We compete every day.”
David Johnson, though, is expected to be the lead back, after proving he could shoulder the load last season.
At Philadelphia in Week 14, Johnson rushed for 187 yards, the fifth-best single-game total in franchise history, and three touchdowns; marks that had never been reached in the same game by the same player in Cardinals history.
The expectations placed on Johnson in year two are huge.
“I feel great; learning the plays, getting more comfortable with the team, but definitely I feel like I have a lot of room to learn,” he said, pointing to pass protection, namely blitz pickup “where (Carson Palmer) doesn’t have to tell me where to go.
“I got to keep striving to get better; trying to help out our team as much as I can.”
The Cardinals finished with the NFL’s eighth-best rushing attack in 2015, averaging 119.8 yards per game.
With a revamped offensive line, the Cardinals hope to be able to run the ball more efficiently this season, led of course by Johnson and Johnson.
“Me and David got a great relationship. We help each other out,” Chris Johnson said. “Just to be able to have a full offseason for us to work together and do all those types of things, I think it’ll be a better year. If everything goes well and we continue to work as hard as we’re going to work, I feel like we’ll probably be the best tandem in the NFL this year.”
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