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Johnson Another Safety In Numbers

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The Cards took Alabama safety Rashad Johnson (49) in the third round. (AP photo)

Rashad Johnson came from the tiny town of Sulligent, Alabama – population about 1,500 -- and walked on at the University of Alabama as a running back.

Eventually, he not only won a job at free safety, he became the SEC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

So Johnson comes to the Cardinals – after being the team's third-round pick Sunday in this year's NFL draft – understanding about fighting for a spot. The Cards have a lot of safeties already, with veterans Aaron Francisco, Matt Ware

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and Keith Lewis behind starters Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle, so there is work to do.

"We went with the best available player even though we have depth at the position," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said.

"A rookie starts at the bottom and has to pass up the veterans in the house. If he doesn't, he doesn't. he doesn't get ordained anything because he is a draft pick."

The Cards thought highly of Johnson, however, considering him in the second round. Davis said because the Cardinals often use four safeties in their dime packages – dropping Rolle and Wilson down near the line of scrimmage – safety depth is coveted.

"I definitely thought there might have been some other teams, like Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, different teams (that needed a safety)," Johnson said. "But I am happy to be a Cardinal. They are set at safety but I am definitely going to compete and try and earn myself a spot on the team."

The 5-foot-11, 203-pound Johnson embraces special teams as well, having earned his way to an Alabama scholarship in large part because of his special teams play. Eventually, though, he blossomed as a safety, making 11 interceptions over his final two seasons (returning two for touchdowns) and breaking up another 19 passes. He also had 183 tackles in 27 games over that span.

Davis said the Cardinals "loved" Johnson's interview at the scouting combine. And Johnson carried himself well after the pick, talking about how excited he was to come to Arizona, how much he liked to play special teams and how it didn't matter where he had been drafted.

"My foot is in the door," Johnson said. "It's about taking advantage of the opportunity."

It's also about pushing the veterans, too.

"Competition, that's the thing," Davis said. "The veteran players know, after the first minicamp, as soon as they see the new puppy at their position, they know if he can play or not.

"When someone is there in the chute ready to take your spot, you are always at your best."


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 4/26/09.

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