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'Much better' pass protection makes David Johnson NFL's most well-rounded RB

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's a question that can lead to a lengthy debate.

Where can Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson get better this season?

He rushed for 1,239 yards last season, firmly establishing himself as one of the top-three running backs in the NFL. He also made his mark as the game's best receiving running back with 879 receiving yards. He's the prototypical combination of power, speed and quickness. He has an arsenal of moves, including his trademark jump cut.

Yet, as Johnson worked to fine-tune his rushing and receiving skills this season, he made one area of his game a priority: pass-protection. And that just might make him the most well-rounded running back playing today.

"That's probably my weakest attribute as a running back," Johnson told ESPN.

Which is why he spent hours this offseason learning how to become a better blocker. It began with the basics. He improved his identification of blitzers and rushers. Then he needed to learn the proper technique. Last season, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer noticed that Johnson had one "go-to" move in pass-protection. Palmer stopped short of calling it predictable, but pass-rushers could figure out what was coming from Johnson.

Palmer has noticed during training camp that Johnson has been using a more diverse arsenal of blocks.

"I think he's more multiple now," Palmer said. "I think he's tried a bunch of different ways to pick up a blitz from wherever it may be coming from. I think he's got more weapons in his quiver."

One of coach Bruce Arians' common critiques of Johnson last season was that he missed too many blitz pick-ups. With that in mind, Johnson set out this offseason to figure out how to slow, if not stop the array of defensive ends, linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties he'll face throughout the season as he tries to keep Palmer upright and healthy.

Johnson's favorite mode of preparation has been film.

He spent hours this offseason watching film of various pass-rushers and blitzes, trying to identify the types of moves they use on running backs.

"I know who I have," Johnson said. "It just comes down to blocking them.

"Guys have their favorite moves, obviously. I think it comes down to a lot of film study and then drills, technique, going against the ones, going against those guys that are good edge rushers and good blitzers."

His work has begun to show.

Arians described Johnson as being "much better" at pass-protection. Palmer said Jonson has gotten to the point where he's "really, really good."

"He puts his body in much better position," Arians said. "He's more aware of who's coming, how they're coming. He's doing real well with that."