BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona running back David Johnson’s seen this movie before and how it played out earlier in the season.
Running back Andre Ellington injured his knee against the New Orleans Saints in the season opener, which forced both him and fellow running back Chris Johnson into immediate action the following week in Chicago against the Bears.
We all remember how that game started off, with Johnson taking the opening kickoff 108 yards to the house. Johnson’s kickoff return tied for the second-longest play in NFL history, and it is currently the longest touchdown in team history.
Johnson was thrust into his moment then, and he’s thrust back into the spotlight yet again with Chris Johnson suffering a knee injury which has him on the injured reserve/designated for return list.
Johnson says he’s ready for Part 2 of “The Moment.” The reason why he’s ready for Part 2 is because he’s been preparing all season long as if he was the starting running back for the Cardinals.
“It’s not like I haven’t been here throughout practice, and being in the game, and preparing each week,” Johnson said. “Nothing’s different. (The) only thing is that I’m playing a little bit more.”
Quarterback Carson Palmer has been in Johnson’s ear the entire season, giving him advice on how to approach his first season in the NFL, which can be tricky for a 23-year-old to navigate through.
Palmer loves what he’s seen from Johnson so far this year, and he’s more than confident that he can get the job done starting this weekend against the St. Louis Rams.
“(He’s) (Johnson) just a different size back, really,” Palmer said. “When you look at Andre (Ellington) and Chris (Johnson), he’s probably got 30 pounds on those guys. Straight-ahead speed, he’s probably as fast as those guys. Those guys are definitely shiftier and quicker, but he just runs through people and through arm tackles. Kind of like a Todd Gurley-style runner. Fast in the open field and just big, hard to bring down. We’re all excited to see him play.”
“Obviously, you wish Chris (Johnson) was here and you wish (An)dre (Ellington) was here,” Palmer said. “David’s been waiting for this opportunity and you want to get him on the field, but it’s been tough with those two guys in front of him. Now, by default unfortunately, he’s going to get those touches and guys are excited to see him play.”
Palmer’s sought out Johnson quite a bit in the aerial attack as well. Three of Johnson’s team-leading eight touchdowns have come via the air. In fact, Johnson is fourth on the team in catches (19), and he’s fifth in receiving yards (241).
Palmer is also impressed with Johnson’s ability to make things happen out in space.
“He’s (Johnson) probably as natural a catcher as there is,” Palmer said. “He was a receiver growing up and he just grew too much, too fast. He catches the ball really, really well. He understands concepts well. Great body control. All those things are really, really good in the passing game.”
Palmer paid Johnson the ultimate compliment, saying at this stage of his young career, Johnson’s as mature a young man as he’s ever seen in his 13 years in the NFL.
“He’s (Johnson) grasped it very quickly. He understands the importance of ball security and all those things, and protection stuff,” Palmer said. “So he doesn’t need a ton of pump-up speeches and pep talks. He doesn’t need a ton of guidance. Definitely, everybody needs some, but for being a rookie, he’s extremely, extremely mature.”
Johnson’s a very grounded young man. You can tell by the way he carries himself in the locker room, on the practice field, on the stadium surfaces, and how he approaches the game as a whole. He’s never let the situation overwhelm him or completely engulf him. That’s why he’s been as good as he’s been this season.
“I feel like it’s not really coming too fast, because I’ve been playing. It’s not like I just got here. I’ve been playing in the NFL, and I’ve been helping out our team,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m not gonna change (anything) really. Just study a little bit more, and make sure I know what I’m doing when the game comes.”
“I don’t get too nervous during the games anymore,” Johnson said. “It’s just like practice: Coming out, doing what I can, trying to calm down, and just let the game come to me.”