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Paris Johnson Jr. Makes Good First Impression With Cardinals

First-round offensive lineman takes part in first rookie minicamp practice

First-round pick Paris Johnson Jr. takes part in a drill during rookie minicamp on Friday.
First-round pick Paris Johnson Jr. takes part in a drill during rookie minicamp on Friday.

After Paris Johnson Jr. finished his press conference as the Cardinals' top draft pick two weeks ago and flew home, he immediately wanted to make sure he got some team gear.

He knew he'd be receiving plenty of stuff from the team once he came back to Arizona for offseason work. But he wanted to get something.

"I didn't want to walk around in a jersey of my own," Johnson said. "That'd be kind of cheesy. I mean, c'mon. And then I'm scrolling (through the team shop) and I see the (Pat) Tillman jersey and I'm like, 'Oh snap.' It was like the legacy one, from like 2000, and I'm like, 'OK.' And it was on sale. It was like $78."

The offensive lineman ended up wearing it when he arrived at the Dignity Health Training Center on Thursday for his first day. He didn't necessarily plan it – he had already shipped most of his clothes to Arizona, and when he was looking for something to wear Thursday for his flight, there the Tillman jersey was in his closet facing him, all but begging him to be the choice.

It made so much sense, wearing the jersey of the man whose locker remains an anchor in the hallway where Johnson was now walking out to his practices with his new team – a player, it should be noted, for whom Johnson's dad Paris Johnson Sr. served as a backup back in 1999.

Johnson revels in that connection, as he at the same time is at the starting point of his own legacy as a Cardinal.

The first day of practice wasn't much of one, less than two dozen players on hand for what coach Jonathan Gannon sees more as an introduction to the team before the rookies jump into the deep end with the veterans beginning on Monday.

Johnson sporting his Tillman jersey when he arrived at the Dignity Health Training facility on Thursday.
Johnson sporting his Tillman jersey when he arrived at the Dignity Health Training facility on Thursday.

What will happen with Johnson remains TBD. With fellow draftee Jon Gaines II snapping the ball at center, Johnson lined up to Gaines' right – although if it was "tackle" or "guard" it was hard to tell since they were the only two offensive linemen in group drills.

"It was two guys but it was almost like all five guys where there," Johnson said, noting how he and Gaines – his current roommate at the team hotel – have already developed chemistry.

"Today I felt we brought a lot of energy to the group period. It was, 'It's just us two so let's have some fun with it.' "

There are multiple places Johnson can go. He played a year each of right guard and left tackle at Ohio State; both of those, along with left guard, could be an option. Veteran Will Hernandez was a career-long left guard before playing right guard last season; there is also Josh Jones potentially at a guard or right tackle, and Kelvin Beachum at right tackle.

"You put (a player) in a spot, but you might be full-time here (at one position), some guys might be 70/30, 75/25, this position and then put a little work into another position," Gannon said. "Our guys understand the value of playing multiple spots.

"We've got a long time to figure it out."

Johnson is about using that time too. He was asked if he has already started watching video of Week 1 pass rusher Chase Young of the Commanders, with whom Johnson was once teammates at Ohio State. Not yet, Johnson said, because right now, he wants to watch video of his pass-rushing teammates, against whom he will work against first.

As for the position he'll be at when that happens? Johnson doesn't know. He's mentally been working at all four non-center spots, and he knows he'll get a better idea when he is practicing with the entire offensive line starting next week.

"I feel like my role is to understand the scheme, and when I take the field, they tell me where to go and I do the best I can," Johnson said.


The Cardinals signed defensive lineman Dante Stills, one of their two sixth-round picks, to a four-year contract on Friday, leaving only three draft picks unsigned: second-round linebacker BJ Ojulari, third-round cornerback Garrett Williams, and sixth-round cornerback Kei'Trel Clark (who has yet to arrive while he graduates from Louisville this weekend.)