David Johnson cringed at the idea.
“You don’t want to be out there for every carry,” the running back said, noting how injury incidents increase as does bruising. “At the end of the season, you just don’t want to be touched.”
Johnson remains the bellcow back for the Cardinals, the guy the team will use almost all of the time out of the backfield. But Chase Edmonds has become his sidekick and stand-in, with the Fordham rookie having his best game of the season last weekend in Green Bay with 53 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
“I’m glad when I come out,” Johnson added, “no one worries about him being on the field.”
Johnson was talking about the coaching staff and teammates. To be fair, to say no one worries isn’t altogether true because the fanbase is still trying to absorb not so much that Edmonds is playing but that Johnson sometimes is not.
“I know how it goes,” Edmonds said. “You have to earn your keep.”
Edmonds isn’t looking to be another Johnson. Instead, he’d like to be another Tarik Cohen, the Bears’ second-year playmaker who has become a dynamic supplement to starter Jordan Howard.
Edmonds knows Cohen personally and sees the parallels. Both are undersized (Edmonds, at 5-foot-9, is actually taller than the 5-6 Cohen) and both hail from small schools – Edmonds is from Fordham, Cohen from North Carolina A&T. Cohen had 156 yards receiving Sunday against the Giants.
Cohen’s advice to Edmonds has been simple: Maintain focus, stay patient.
“He’s so electrifying,” Edmonds said. “I want to try to continue to learn from people I can learn from and grow as a player.”
It isn’t the Bears’ backfield coach Steve Wilks sees but the Saints as a blueprint, where Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram form a running back duo that can be rough to defend. Quarterback Josh Rosen likes the idea both Johnson and Edmonds can catch the ball, because as an offense “it gives you a lot of freedom.”
Edmonds was the offensive spark when he played in Green Bay, scoring his first two NFL touchdowns and admittedly being worried he wouldn’t get another chance at the first when his initial foray into the end zone was reversed on replay.
But the Cardinals stuck with him – at least some. Edmonds still only had five carries (for his 53 yards) while Johnson had 20 carries (for 69) yards. Each had two targets, with Edmonds catching both and Johnson one.
Johnson still had the bulk of the work, playing 52 of 62 offensive snaps, while Edmonds played 13, even if it seemed like Edmonds had suddenly cut significantly into Johnson’s work load. This is not going to become a split-time situation. Johnson will be the workhorse, like he was in getting five carries in the Cardinals’ final seven offensive plays to set up what turned out to be the game-winning field goal.
“We’re not just blindly doing it, just throwing those two guys out there,” offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich said. “We are putting those guys out there for a reason. They are two of our better players, two guys who can do something with the ball.”
That’s all Edmonds seeks for now, as he wants to improve not even through his first season in the NFL. He sees the NFL trending toward that need for multiple backfield threats, and “creative coordinators finding ways to get playmakers the ball in space.”
And when he’s on the field, Johnson waits for him to succeed.
“I just tell him he’s a great player and don’t let the fans make him think any less of himself,” Johnson said. “Everyone in the organization and who is part of the football team knows how good he is.”
Past images between the Cardinals and Sunday's opponent in the regular season opener, the Detroit Lions