David Johnson thought he was done having to prove himself on the football field. His first two seasons in the NFL should have taken care of that.
It’s probably not a fluke, after all, when you set rookie records, get your cleats sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and then lead the league in touchdowns and yards from scrimmage in your second year.
But here he is, once again feeling like a relatively unknown commodity from the University of Northern Iowa, left with no alternative but to justify his worth all over again.
The Cardinals running back kicked off somewhat of a “Re-appreciation Tour of 2018” with a bang Saturday night, busting his two carries in the team’s preseason opener against the Chargers for 14 yards apiece. It was vintage Johnson, powering through the line of scrimmage with a burst and showing off his classic, jump-cut moves.
He ran angry and he ran angry for a reason.
“Yeah, that was the biggest Custom Arizona Cardinals Jersey thing,” he said. “I wanted to let everyone know I’m back. I think the team and the Cardinals’ fan base knows, but I think the biggest thing is letting everyone else know that not just that I’m back, but our offense is stacked – our front line, the receivers are stacked and the quarterback is doing good.”
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Make no mistake: It’s personal. Johnson feels as if he’s been forgotten after missing virtually all of last season with a fractured left wrist. He entered the year ranked as the 12th best player in the league on NFL.com’s Top 100 list only to be left completely off of that same list this year.
Perhaps it was simply a case of out of sight, out of mind, but it clearly didn’t sit well with Johnson. A broken wrist, after all, doesn’t equate to a broken-down tailback. His omission from the Top 100 list didn’t help his argument, either, that he deserves a new contract now that he’s in the final year of his rookie deal with the Cardinals.
“I think that’s what it is,” Johnson said. “I didn’t play. I didn’t play last year. I was hoping that my production from my second year and what I did in the first year would help out, but the NFL is, ‘What have you done for me lately?’
“So hopefully I can prove it once the season starts.”
Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said he plans to increase Johnson’s workload during Friday night’s preseason game at the Saints, and although he wouldn’t say how much playing time Johnson will get, it’s another chance for the fourth-year pro to validate his request for a contract extension.
On that front, Johnson isn’t letting the Customized Jerseys possibility of a big payday consume him.
“I’m letting my agent handle that,” he said. “I really want to focus on football because I don’t want that to hinder my play on the field.”
Though there have been reports that negotiations between Johnson’s representatives and the Cardinals had gone stagnant, Johnson on Monday said his agents told him they continue to be in communication with the team and “hopefully, we get a deal done.”
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That has left him feeling “very encouraged,” he said, adding, “I think that’s another reason why I want to prove that, as well, that I’m back 100 percent.”
No one is asking Johnson about his goals to rush for 1,000 yards and also reach 1,000 receiving yards this season. That’s because “everyone’s wondering if I’m going to be 100 percent,” he said. “Everyone’s worrying about the wrist, first off. But like I’ve been saying, it’s feeling great. I’ve done everything. I’ve been benching since April, I’ve been doing all the lifting and it’s feeling good.”