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Making Up For Lost Time

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Fullback Dionte Johnson gets some pointers from running backs coach Maurice Carthon during Monday's organized team activity.

Dionte Johnson ran on the field Monday morning for the first time since minicamp in early May.

And the undrafted rookie fullback was told to go in the second play of the day, as the offense went through its walkthrough to start the organized team activity.

Johnson is one of the few players caught in the NFL's rule that rookies cannot take part in offseason workouts – save for the one mandatory minicamp – until their class is done with school in the spring. For schools on non-semester calendars like Johnson's Ohio State or UCLA, that means players miss some crucial on-field time.

"It's tough," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "You could see that. He had a couple mistakes, because (running backs) coach (Maurice) Carthon tried to fit him in but he just missed a lot."

Johnson missed three weeks of OTAs. Undrafted rookie safety Dennis Keyes, who played at UCLA, is still out.

"We try to catch them up as quick as we can but it definitely puts them behind," Whisenhunt said.

Johnson insisted he didn't feel too far behind. But veteran safety Matt Ware, who went to UCLA, said having been through it with the Eagles in 2004 it is not an easy process.

"When I was in Philly the coaches were calling me letting me know what I needed to know," Ware said. "But once you get back, putting the speed to plays, that's hard. I had a lot do going into training camp."

At the time, Ware, a third-round pick, was a cornerback. And studying the playbook sounds great – until he had to try and cover Terrell Owens in practice, which can't be replicated at home.

"The whole thing is your work ethic," Johnson said. "My dad told me that all the time, 'Make sure you are in your book.' Even when I was back home with homework and finals, he was like, 'Stay in that playbook, because when you get back, they are going to throw you in.' "

The multi-tasking separated Johnson from many players who are sitting out. While Ohio State teammate Vernon Gholston had already left school before he was drafted by the Jets, Gholston had to wait until Friday to go to New York. Johnson, however, wanted to stay because he was actually finishing his degree. Johnson received his diploma for a business and marketing degree Sunday.

AL JOHNSON RETURNS

A day short of five weeks after knee surgery, starting center Al Johnson was back on the field Monday for practice. Johnson admitted he had hoped to be back sooner – at one point when he played in Dallas, Johnson had arthroscopic knee surgery on Thanksgiving night and played 10 days later.

Johnson said his knee feels much better than before surgery. He began to have swelling with three games left in the season and it lasted through minicamp.

"It was just cleaning," Johnson said. "Now I just need to get my strength back."

MOVING QUICKLY

Having signed their fourth-round and fifth-round draft picks to contracts already, general manager Rod Graves said the Cards are trying to work it so all but their top two picks are under contract before July. While that doesn't mean they all will get done, "we don't want the others lingering," Graves said.

Even the deals for second-round pick Calais Campbell and first-rounder Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie shouldn't be too difficult. With Rodgers-Cromartie picked 16th overall, his deal should be easier to complete than last year's talks with No. 1 pick (and fifth overall) Levi Brown, who missed the first few days of training camp.

"We will see if it holds true, but the fact the deal is in that area and not the top 10, we have a better chance of getting it done in a timely fashion," Graves said.

EXTRA POINTS

The weather was noticeably hotter Monday, something Whisenhunt hoped would help the Cardinals' improvement.

"It's easy to lose their focus, especially after a long weekend," Whisenhunt said. "It's a little like the Giants last year, it didn't matter who they played or where they played they had that mentality and we can use this week to develop that mentality. I know it's a little hotter, I know it's the last week (of OTAs), there are a lot of distractions. But we work on the things we do, and when we get into games we can draw on that." …

Linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive end Antonio Smith, each of whom were absent last week, returned to workouts Monday. But wide receiver Anquan Boldin and defensive end Darnell Dockett are still gone and are expected to miss all the OTAs. Graves said the Cards had an informal meeting with Boldin and Dockett's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, Monday, but added it was a general meeting rather than negotiations.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 6/9/08.

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