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Johnson strong in preseason debut, 'encouraged' about deal

David Johnson showed promising signs Saturday against the Chargers. It was his first action since the 2017 season opener. (Photo by Shawn Moran/Cronkite News)

David Johnson showed promising signs Saturday against the Chargers. It was his first action since the 2017 season opener. (Photo by Shawn Moran/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE (AP) – Even though he says he’s not paying that much attention to it, David Johnson says he’s “very encouraged” about ongoing contract talks between his agent and the Arizona Cardinals.

“They said they’re going to continue to talk and hopefully we can get a deal done soon,” he said.

The standout running back held out during the team’s three-day minicamp but has been a full participant in training camp, and had a pair of impressive runs to start Saturday night’s preseason 24-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

“I’m letting my agent handle it,” he said. “I really want to focus on football because I don’t want to hinder my play on the field.”

Johnson said he believes the Cardinals and the team’s fan base know how good he is, but he believes others around the NFL may have forgotten. He’s out to remind them and prove he’s worth a big contract.

An All-Pro selection in 2016, when he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns, Johnson fractured his left wrist in the 2017 season opener and hadn’t played since – until those two carries against the Chargers.

The injury is what is holding up a contract, he believes.

“I didn’t play last year,” Johnson said. “I was hoping that my production from my second year and what I did get in the first year would help out, but the NFL is what have you done for me lately. So hopefully I can prove it.”

Johnson, a third-round draft pick out of Northern Iowa in 2015, is set to make $1.9 million in this the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. That’s far, far below what other big-time running backs will earn.

Johnson said he was “a little anxious but not rusty” when he made his return to the game.

In each of his two carries, the big, fast back gained 14 yards behind a revamped offensive line that cleared the way for him.

“The biggest thing I was pumped up about is how easy it was for me to get through the holes,” Johnson said. “They were gaping holes. The guys up front blocked very well for me.”

New coach Steve Wilks wants an offense that emphasizes power running and that’s what he got from the first unit in its only series against LA, which culminated with a 2-yard TD run by Johnson’s hard-running backup, rookie Chase Edmonds.

New quarterback Sam Bradford, who completed his only pass for 6 yards, said the Cardinals established just what they wanted to in that opening series.

“We’ve talked all preseason, really all camp, about coming out and establishing our physicality in being able to run the football,” Bradford said after practice Tuesday. “For us to be able to come out and do what we did I think is extremely encouraging just because it’s something that has been an emphasis and something that has been talked about so much.”

What the Cardinals didn’t see is Johnson as a receiver. He caught 80 passes for 879 yards two seasons ago (along with 1,239 yards rushing in 293 attempts).

“I want to be on the field as much as possible,” Johnson said, “third downs have me split out at receiver. Not just third downs, but any play whenever we think I have an advantage over the defender, hopefully I can be split out or coming out of the backfield as a receiver.”

Bradford marveled at how Johnson has run routes as a receiver in practice.

“I mean, he’s pretty impressive,” Bradford said. “Today at practice, just watching him run routes, I think he might be one of our best route runners, regardless of position. He’s just so smooth. He’s so versatile as a running back that there are so many different things you can do with him.

“Last week, watching him take the first two carries for 14 yards, that’s what he’s best at. We’ve just got to find ways to give him opportunities to make plays like that.”

The Cardinals went through their final outdoor practice Tuesday. They will break Arizona’s shortest training camp in recent memory with a workout Wednesday inside University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Cardinals are at New Orleans in their second preseason game Friday night and are to return to work out Sunday at the team’s practice facility in Tempe.

Notes

Arizona signed wide receiver Austin Wolf, an undrafted rookie free agent from Akron, and released wide receiver Richard Ross.