If Steve Wilks had any concerns about running back David Johnson's health this week -- he had a minor back issue -- they were quelled when the coach chatted up his star Friday morning.
"I asked him if he was fine and he talked about some of the things he did in the weight room," Wilks said. "He was bragging a little bit there. So he's ready to go."
The Cardinals need Johnson. That's a statement that can be used weekly, but after an opener in which the offense did little and Johnson was only able to get 14 touches (nine carries and five receptions), the focus only becomes clearer.
Johnson said he needed to cut down on his mental errors – he said he made pass protection mistakes – and catch the ball. Of the nine passes he was targeted with, he dropped three.
"I did the corrections, and now I'm ready for the Rams," Johnson said.
Johnson looked solid in the run game last week, gaining 37 yards and a touchdown for a 4.1-per carry average. His use in the passing game, at least in Week 1, looked different than it did in 2016 when he had 879 yards receiving. Much of that had to do with the game's narrative, putting Johnson in the backfield with quarterback Sam Bradford in the shotgun with three wide receivers much of the second half.
Only once – Johnson's first reception – was he split out wide. He was in the slot for a four-yard catch in the first quarter. His other eight targets all came as he leaked out of the backfield, and one was as a safety valve after the play broke down and he was done with blocking duties.
"Obviously (my receiving duties) are different," Johnson said. "But I'm still being utilized."
Johnson said his drops were merely him taking his eyes off the ball. Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said there are things Johnson needs to improve, but added he felt the same for all the pass catchers.
The expectation is that Johnson will get a lot more work this week against the Rams.
"If you saw him (Friday) in practice, David is David," Wilks said. "He's flying around, doing all his usual things."
WETZEL TO REPLACE SMITH AT RIGHT TACKLE; WAITING ON GOLDEN
Right tackle Andre Smith (elbow) will miss Sunday's game, as will reserve defensive tackle Olsen Pierre (toe). Smith will be replaced in the lineup by John Wetzel, who made 11 starts last season and eight in 2016. Wilks said Smith's injury is week-to-week, but it is "promising" he will return against the Bears in Week 3.
As for the availability of defensive end Markus Golden, who was limited all week in his first practices since tearing his ACL in October of 2017, Wilks didn't close the door on his availability. Golden joins tight end Jermaine Gresham (Achilles) and linebacker Haason Reddick (ankle) – who hurt himself at practice Thursday – as the three players who are questionable for the game.
"(Markus) would give us a spark," Wilks said. "We'd have to be smart and limit his reps, put him in situations where he could be effective."
For the Rams, wide receiver Michael Thomas (hip) is out, while linebacker Mark Barron (concussion) is doubtful.
CARDINALS READY FOR THE TEST OF THE RAMS' DEFENSIVE LINE
The Rams feature the defensive Player of the Year in defensive tackle Aaron Donald and have underrated lineman Michael Brockers, a pair of players the Cardinals have seen for a few years. They've added Ndamukong Suh to the mix, creating a rough test at the line of scrimmage.
"These are two of the best guys to have ever done it," center Mason Cole said of Suh and Donald. "Obviously there is a big difference (from most teams). But at the same time, it's a good challenge for us to see how good we are."
Guard Justin Pugh, on the Big Red Rage Thursday night, noted how the Rams seem to be moving the trio around, so that sometimes, they end up as a tackle, sometimes at an end. It means any of the five linemen could get their share of the big three.
"These guys are elite," Wilks said, noting that there will be ways to help the rookie Cole both with interior line scheme and with the play calls. "We'll have our hands full but we're ready for the challenge and we will play well this week."
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Los Angeles Rams