David Johnson brings different skills to Cardinals' offense

The Cardinals are expecting more from rookie David Johnson, who is a "Todd Gurley-style runner" according to Carson Palmer. Norm Hall/Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona Cardinals understand it’ll be tough -- if not impossible -- to replace both Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington.

But in rookie David Johnson, Arizona has a running back who’s not cut from the same mold as those two. He’s different. Not necessarily better or worse. Just different.

“When you look at Andre and Chris, he’s probably got 30 pounds on those guys,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “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.”

While David Johnson will be asked to fill multiple roles in Arizona’s offense, those of Chris Johnson and Ellington, he’ll continue to be able to do what he does best: be a receiver.

Of Johnson’s 171 offensive snaps, 67.3 percent of them have been pass plays. He has 19 receptions for 241 yards compared with 35 rushes for 139 yards.

“He’s 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.”

With the loss of Chris Johnson until the Super Bowl with a fractured tibia and the indefinite loss of Ellington to turf toe, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said David Johnson will step up but the offense won’t change at all.

Johnson’s role, will however.

His role in the passing game will continue much the same but he’ll also inherit some of Chris Johnson’s carries. Arizona promoted Kerwynn Williams from the practice squad, and he’s expected to become an active part of the Cardinals’ ground game, as well, while Stepfan Taylor will see his snaps increase, especially in pass protection.

David Johnson’s been prepped for this opportunity by Palmer and Chris Johnson. Their main advice has been to not overthink what he’s doing.

“I don’t need to try to do too much,” David Johnson said. “Just do my role and help out the team as much as I can.”

Johnson has already seen his role and his snaps increase once before this season. Johnson had just one touch in the season opener -- a 55-yard touchdown catch. But when Ellington suffered a PCL injury in Week 1, Johnson had 23 touches in during the next three games while Ellington was out (15 rushes for 85 yards and a touchdown, and eight catches for 82 yards and a touchdown).

That early experience helped shrink the playbook for Johnson.

“That’s helped me a lot,” Johnson said. “I don’t get too nervous during the games anymore. It’s just like practice, coming out, doing what I can. Trying to calm down and just let the game come to me.”

Arians set out parameters for the Cardinals’ run game on Wednesday. He doesn’t think it needs 150 yards to win.

“We just need to run it over 25 times and we’ll be fine,” Arians said.

However those carries are divvied up, David Johnson will get a fair share of them. Going from 35 total carries this season to potentially half of that or more on Sunday can be a shock to any running back’s body, but Palmer has been on Johnson about the importance of conditioning and sleep.

And Palmer has seen David Johnson grasp what he’s been preaching.

“We’ve had a number of different talks and I think of any rookie, he’s so much more mature than most rookies you see,” Palmer said. “He’s grasped it very quickly.

“He doesn’t need a ton of guidance. Definitely, everybody needs some but for being a rookie, he’s extremely, extremely mature.”

How that maturity will help Johnson is still yet to be seen, but David Johnson will have to grow up even faster on the fly because Arians’ expecting more out of his rookie.

“You can do a little more than with Chris because of his receiving ability,” Arians said. “He’s a combination of Chris and Andre. He’s going to be a heck of a player.”