David Johnson (center) runs with fellow Cardinals' running backs Elijhaa Penny (left) and D.J. Foster this week during Phase One work.
David Johnson is back.
And he's back all the way, no limitations, fully cleared. He is bench pressing and doing push-ups, tangible proof his wrist is healthy.
The running back hasn’t played football since Week 1 in 2017, his wrist crumbling beneath the helmet of a Detroit Lions’ defender, undercutting his chance to follow up his all-pro season in 2016.
His legs were never a problem, and he acknowledges because of this he’s probably in the best shape of his life. Conditioning never stopped, and he called it a “blessing” in a bad situation that his lower body was unaffected by injury.
As for the player who had more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage two seasons ago? “I feel like there won’t be any
difference,” Johnson said Thursday.
“I feel I’ll actually be better, because being hurt last year, I feel like I got smarter last year watching,” Johnson added.
That was courtesy of former teammate Carson Palmer, who also was hurt by Week 7 and spent the rest of the season tutoring Johnson on the game as they watched helplessly on the sideline.
Much is expected of Johnson this season. He said reaching 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving remains a major goal after coming up 80 receiving yards short in 2016. He shrugged off the idea he’s suffered two significant injuries in his past two regular-season games, after spraining his knee in the 2016 finale.
“I’m more of a positive guy,” Johnson said. “I don’t dwell on the past.”
Johnson also insisted he isn’t thinking “at all” about this being the last year of his contract, or about any contract extension. Johnson is set to make $1.8 million this season.
“Especially with this injury,” Johnson said. “I’ve been so focused on the wrist and getting back and now with new coaches, new teammates, I’m more focused on that.”
Strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris said if anything, he has to make sure Johnson doesn’t overextend himself during training.
“He’s a freak,” Morris said. “I will never take credit for anything David Johnson (does), I never take credit for anything any of our guys do. David is very gifted. Along with being gifted he has a great wife and great family that drives him. I have to protect David from David, to be honest with you. He always wants to load the bar with more and more weight.”
At this, Johnson smiles, knowing he does want to push himself – although he added sometimes he just wants to troll Morris.
“I like to get under his skin a little bit,” Johnson said. “He starts using these huge words that no one understands. It’s fun to mess with him.”
Getting back into the rhythm of the locker room and hanging out with teammates is part of the comeback process too. As with most players on injured reserve, there is an isolated feeling even when the player is coming every day to rehab.
It doesn’t hurt that Johnson is crucial to the Cardinals’ success, and everyone knows it.
“Seeing him work out and run on the field, we thought he could play every Sunday (last year),” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “He’s always looking good. That guy is a freak of nature.
“We all know what David can do. It’s no secret that he’s a special talent. He’s a special running back, and we definitely need him to make our offense go.”
Johnson won’t be a Sports Illustrated cover boy like he was a year ago. Whether he’ll still have the NFL spotlight, Johnson admitted he wasn’t sure.
“If not,” Johnson said, “they’ll be watching.”
Images of Cardinals cheerleader Karli in 2017. Auditions for the 2018 squad will be held April 7-8.