Arizona Cardinals’ running back David Johnson touched the ball nearly 375 times during the 2016 season.
No NFL running back had his hands on the ball more than Johnson last year, which suggests the Cardinals may want to consider reducing their star tailback’s workload heading into 2017.
However, head coach Bruce Arians insists that Johnson is more than capable of serving as the team’s bell cow back, which could be what’s hindered veteran rushers around the league from joining forces with Johnson in Arizona.
Entering the month of June, the Cardinals still don’t have a secondary option in the backfield they can feel supremely confident in, but Arians suggested Tuesday that doesn’t matter. The Cardinals’ head coach is satisfied with the combination of Kerwynn Williams and Andre Ellington serving as Johnson’s primary backups, and likes what he’s seen from second-year Idaho product Elijhaa Penny.
“They’re all kind of proven other than Elijhaa (Penny),” Arians said. “We know what we have in Kerwynn (Williams), we know what we have in Andre (Ellington), and his flexibility is very good for him. Elijhaa is kind of the dark horse and then T.J. (Logan), he’s learning. We know he can return kicks, but I like what I saw out of Elijhaa all of last year.”
Aside from the trio mentioned above, the Cardinals also attempted to add backfield depth this offseason through the draft, as the team selected North Carolina tailback T.J. Logan in the fifth round. Logan is a scat-back type of an athlete who offers the Cardinals help as a kick returner, but it’s unclear how his rushing style will translate to the NFL.
If Johnson were to suffer an injury or grow fatigued over the course of a long seasons, the Cardinals would stand to suffer immensely, considering there’s such a steep dropoff between his talent level and that of his backups. However, Arians said he’s not sure if the team will continue to pursue veteran tailbacks in free agency.
“We’ll see. I don’t see a glaring need for one right now but there’s always a possibility,” Arians said.
The Cardinals haven’t hinted at any plans to limit Johnson, but one veteran the franchise has kept a close watch on this offseason is quarterback Carson Palmer. Though Palmer would prefer to be on the field throwing every day, Arians has held Palmer out of many of the team’s offseason training activity practices in an effort to preserve his arm.
With the end of OTAs approaching, Arians has allowed Palmer to begin throwing, and said after Tuesday’s practice session that his quarterback looks sharp.
“Carson threw last week, he practiced our last day last week,” Arians said. “He came back today, we’ll go again tomorrow so we’ll see how he feels two days in a row. Whether he goes Thursday or Friday we’ll see. But looked really sharp.”
Inexperience in action
Practices in May and June are often filled with growing pains, especially for the younger players on a team and the rookies making adjustments to the NFL.
Arians has a reputation for holding rookies back until he has complete confidence in their abilities, but in a practice scenario, the Cardinals have no choice but to give their inexperienced players reps and see what they can handle. This week, Arians said he was frustrated by the play of his centers, who were fumbling snaps at Tuesday’s practice.
“Disappointing thing we had some fumbled snaps from centers that were inexcusable, they can ruin a practice quick,” Arians said. “But two new centers and still, no excuse.”
One rookie Arians is pleased with so far is first round draft choice Haason Reddick, who has worked closely with free agent addition Karlos Dansby to learn the ins and outs of the inside linebacker position.
Dansby is set to begin his third tour of duty with the Cardinals when the 2017 season kicks off, while Reddick is transitioning from his role as an outside linebacker at the college level to inside linebacker in Arizona. The Cardinals are hopeful Reddick becomes accustomed to the position quickly because starting inside linebacker Deone Bucannon is out until at least the beginning of September after recently undergoing ankle surgery.
“As soon as Karlos (Dansby) got in the building the energy level went up,” Arians said. “Haason (Reddick) is following him around on the field, off the field and if you follow him, you’ll know what a pro really looks like.”