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Paris Johnson Hones In On Job One: Protecting Kyler Murray

Right tackle working his way through rookie season

Right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. faces off against Falcons edge rusher Bud Dupree in last week's game.
Right tackle Paris Johnson Jr. faces off against Falcons edge rusher Bud Dupree in last week's game.

When Paris Johnson Jr. walked across the NFL Draft stage to embrace commissioner Roger Goodell, not only was a dream fulfilled, but it was at that moment that he was assigned a task.

"My reason for being in the NFL is because of what I put on tape in college," Johnson said. "My reason for being here, on the Cardinals right now is to protect him."

Johnson pointed at the locker of quarterback Kyler Murray.

Johnson has played every snap this season at right tackle, but up until Week 10, Murray wasn't the quarterback. After some success in the beginning of the season blocking the NFL's best pass rushers in Micah Parsons and Nick Bosa, Johnson's performance struggled some. Over the last four games, Johnson did not receive a grade higher than his 58.2 performance against the Ravens, according to Pro Football Focus.

When Murray trotted onto the field against the Falcons, that understanding from draft night crept back in, and his performance showed why he was the sixth-overall pick.

According to PFF, Johnson allowed zero pressures on 40 pass block snaps, earning an 81.7 grade in Week 10.

"It's not always going to be perfect, but I never expect him to stay down after a bad game or bad performance or a bad rep," offensive coordinator Drew Petzing said. "He's the same guy on the sideline no matter what happened on the previous drive. I think you see that week-to-week in the way that he goes out there and plays."

With Sunday being Murray's first game, it was also Johnson's first chance to block for the whirling dervish that Murray can become on any given play. On Murray's crucial third-down scramble on the game-winning drive, Petzing acknowledged he was worried Johnson might end up with an illegal blindside block.

Johnson played it smart, and the Cardinals benefited.

"Obviously, I'm just trying to do my job and get the ball out, if need be, to help those guys out," Murray said. "Any time a quarterback gets a guy that is as talented and as good as (Paris), you're going to be happy. Because if you can stand up, stand up in the pocket, stand up straight, keep you up right, we're going to be pretty good."

Johnson doesn't mind the longer plays because "you just lock them up. I started smiling because 'touchdown, touchdown.' I think it's fun."

After helping carve out room for Clayton Tune's tush-push QB sneak touchdown, the 6-foot-6, 313 pounder was dancing in the end zone. Coach Jonathan Gannon has said he wants good people that put the team first in the Cardinals locker room. Johnson fits that mold.

The first-year head coach said his first-year right tackle has met his expectations.

"I think he continues to get better week-to-week and that's not just on game day," Gannon said. "I just had a conversation with him, and he kind of found his sweet spot about how he likes to watch tape now. I think sky's the limit."

Accountability has been a term that the new regime has prided itself on ever since they arrived in Arizona. Off the field, Johnson has made it a priority of his to develop that chemistry with his QB1. The two speak regularly about their aspirations for the team and themselves.

"The cool thing in our relationship is that one of the first days I told him 'Hey, my goal, as a rookie, I want to be first-team all-pro and I want to go to the Pro Bowl,'" Johnson said. "This was before he was back completely. I'm like, 'All the stuff that you see, good, bad, whatever, I need you to remind me.' I know your goals, so I'm going to hold you to it. I think that's something that we're not afraid to talk about, what we want and what we want to accomplish with this team."

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