Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson returns the first of his two interceptions last weekend in Detroit.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – Rashad Johnson has enjoyed this week of practice away from home a lot more than the last time the Cardinals spent a week away, because, well, he's not dealing with the partial loss of a finger.
Back in 2013, the safety had the nasty injury playing in New Orleans. In Florida that week, he couldn't practice, and he missed two games. Since then, Johnson has raised his game. Before the finger loss, Johnson had three interceptions in 60 NFL appearances. In the
31 games he's played since the injury, he's had 10 picks, including two last week in Detroit.
To this, Johnson laughs. "I never thought of it that way," he said, although he understands those statistics are much more about coincidence than a career-changing moment.
"Earlier in my career I was a nickel, special-teams guy playing behind some legends in Adrian (Wilson) and Antrel (Rolle)," said Johnson, a third-round pick in 2009. "The chance to play more is really what has given me the opportunity to make plays and show who've I've been and the guy I was always capable of being."
Johnson wasn't really installed as a starter until Bruce Arians arrived. He was just finding himself in that role when he got hurt – and even when he came back, he ended up being pushed out of the starting lineup by dynamic rookie Tyrann Mathieu.
Mathieu's knee injury changed the situation again. Johnson went back to starting in 2014, had a good season, and has left his imprint as a coach on the field. Mathieu is healthy again, but there is a reason the Cardinals play so many defensive backs most of the time – it's about getting the best players on the field.
Johnson, even after his finger mishap, is one of those players.
"I think he's a little bit underrated in terms of athletic ability," defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. "You saw him grab the pick over on the sidelines. That was outstanding athletically. He had to turn his hips, flip back inside, sink and catch that thing. His intangible part is he can get everyone lined up on the field. The communication he gives us on the back end is priceless."
Johnson is embedded as part of a tight-knit group in the secondary – a secondary that has some contract-related questions going into the offseason. Safety Tony Jefferson will be a restricted free agent, and cornerbacks Jerraud Powers and Justin Bethel are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. So too is Johnson, who will turn 30 the day before the regular-season finale.
The Cardinals have gotten so good at using extra defensive backs most of the time it figures to aid Johnson's chances of the team wanting him back.
"I think there is still value for me on this team (in the future) and to play for one team your entire career would be a dream come true," Johnson said. "Arizona drafted me, this is where I have been, this is where I have grown, I've been through the ups and downs and established myself. I would love to stay here."
IUPATI READY TO GO; WOODLEY GAME-DAY DECISION
Following the Cardinals' last practice of the week at The Greenbrier in West Virginia, coach Bruce Arians had good injury news when he said Mike Iupati – who sat out Thursday with tightness in his back – practiced Friday and would be fine for Sunday's game. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley (chest) would be a game-day decision, Arians said, after being limited Friday.
Johnson was also downgraded from full practice Thursday to limited Friday. Johnson, who had a hip injury, had a thigh injury added to his maladies. Both he and Iupati are, like Woodley, officially questionable.
Linebacker Alex Okafor (calf), who had already returned to Arizona, is out.
As expected, the Steelers ruled out quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (knee), along with cornerback Will Allen (ankle) and linebacker Ryan Shazier (shoulder). Corneback Cortez Allen (knee) and linebacker Jarvis Jones (hip) are questionable.
Images of the key players for this week's opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers