Cardinals running back David Johnson sprints down the sideline after a catch during the Cards' win over Green Bay last month.
Whether David Johnson was going to eventually ease into his current role as the Cardinals' top running back or whether it was a happy accident, the rookie is now a key – if not the key – part of the offense as the Cards begin their playoff run.
Johnson insists his inexperience won't hurt him, however. In his mind, he's already experienced.
"I think that's all out of the way by now," Johnson said Wednesday, as the Cardinals prepare to host the Packers Saturday in a
Divisional Round playoff game. "It comes with playing in games. I don't really have any more rookie nerves."
Johnson's run of great rushing games came to an end against the Packers the first time, in large part because the Cardinals blew out Green Bay. Johnson barely played in the second half, but still gained 39 yards rushing on only nine carries and added 88 yards receiving on three catches. He scored on an impressive 14-yard run early in the third quarter, and there is optimism Johnson can have another good game in the rematch.
"He's played well. Hopefully, he continues to," offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "The kid is humble. The kid works his butt off and he's smart, so he's got a bright future ahead. Hopefully, he can protect the ball like he's been doing and we should be alright."
Johnson said he doesn't think of the spotlight or national television audiences – "There's too much stuff going on in my head," Johnson said, referring to the game plan – and besides, he's performed well in such circumstances, like his 187 yards rushing on "Sunday Night Football" in Philadelphia.
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said Johnson has confidence, "but it's not arrogance."
"He's not one of those guys who gets wide-eyed," Fitzgerald said.
THE OPTIONS IN REPLACING OKAFOR
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher called the toe injury suffered by starting linebacker Alex Okafor away from the football field – Okafor was placed on the Non-Football Injury list Tuesday – "unfortunate." But he sounded upbeat the Cardinals can
handle the changeup.
"There are a lot of guys in that room who have been itching and clawing and asking and begging and pleading and wanting more snaps," Bettcher said.
Bettcher rattled off all the remaining outside linebackers as potential for the rotation, including rookie Shaq Riddick – who has been active (but did not play a snap) for just one game. The decision on who to play won't come until later this week, Bettcher added.
As for newcomer Jason Babin, Bettcher backed Bruce Arians' comment that Babin will have a role by saying the Cardinals are "working him into all packages." From there, they will see what Babin is comfortable with and what the Cards need.
"In terms of scheme-wise, it's not a question about him going out and playing," Bettcher said. "He's been a guy that's been on our mind for a little while, in case something happened. We're excited to have him. He's a tested vet and he understands what it takes."
GOODWIN'S TAMPA COACHING INTERVIEW
Goodwin interviewed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week for their vacant head coaching job. He called it a "great experience" – it was the first head coaching interview he had gotten – but that was about it.
"That's all I need to say about that," Goodwin said. "It was an honor and a blessing, but that's not my focus right now."
Goodwin was asked about what advice he sought out ahead of time, but he declined to get into it.
"I'm not worried about that right now," Goodwin said. "I really don't want to talk about that. My focus is on the Green Bay Packers."
BYE PROVIDES SHORT INJURY REPORT
The Cardinals, coming off the bye weekend, only had five players on the injury report and all are expected to be available to play Saturday. The best news: quarterback Carson Palmer is now upgraded to full practice with his finger injury.
Four players were listed as limited: linebacker Markus Golden (knee), defensive tackle Josh Mauro (calf), guard Mike Iupati (shoulder) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (ankle). The Cardinals did put two injured players on season-ending lists Tuesday, losing both Okafor and defensive tackle Cory Redding (ankle).
The Packers' injury list is considerably longer. Wide receiver Davante Adams (knee) and cornerback Quinten Rollins (quadriceps) did not practice. A whopping 10 players were limited: tackle David Bakhtiari (ankle), defensive tackle Mike Daniels (hamstring), defensive end Datone Jones (neck), running back Eddie Lacy (ribs), guard T.J. Lang (calf), linebacker Mike Neal (hip), tight end Andrew Quarless (knee), tight end Richard Rodgers (hip), guard Josh Sitton (back) and cornerback Sam Shields (concussion).