Defensive end Darnell Dockett yanks on the jersey of running back Tim Hightower during Sunday's practice at Walkup Skydome.
FLAGSTAFF – Cornerback Justin Miller slipped to the turf and wide receiver Onrea Jones was wide open.
Just for a moment.
Then, as the pass closed in on Jones, so did free safety Rashad Johnson, who connected with Jones at the same time the ball arrived during Sunday's afternoon practice at Walkup Skydome. It was the highlight of a very good practice for Johnson, which was good news for both Johnson and the Cardinals.
Johnson was a third-round pick last year for Arizona, a smart safety who the Cards felt was a steal late in the third round. He provided a safety net in case Antrel Rolle wasn't going to come back in 2010 because of contract issues.
Rolle indeed left as a free agent when the Cards couldn't re-sign him. But Johnson's rookie year was so sketchy the team traded for Kerry Rhodes, while Johnson has returned looking to show the talent that the Cards had fallen in love with in the first place.
"There were definitely times (last year) where I was like, 'What is going on, I can play better than this,' "Johnson said. "But it was all a comfort level."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Johnson missed the chance to make plays last season at times and was out of position on others. The coaches felt he wasn't a strong tackler.
"If today is any indication, he has made progress," Whisenhunt said.
The Cards do use multiple safety sets, which helps Johnson in his quest to stick around. But Rolle, a former cornerback, was versatile enough to play both. The current safeties – Johnson, Adrian Wilson, Rhodes, Matt Ware, Hamza Abdullah – are more set in their positions.
"I think I am ready to step in," Johnson said. "Any opportunity I get to make a tackle this year, I am going to make it."
A LOT OF HITTING
One message Whisenhunt gave his team before camp started was simple: No cheap shots.
The coach didn't see any of those Sunday, even as the hitting increased.
"I think it's good," Whisenhunt said. "When you have the pads on, it's like the game. You obviously don't want to expose any of your players to potential injury and we are sensitive to that, but I don't think it crossed the line today.
"There is going to be contact. But our guys take care of each other."
The Cardinals were forced to play inside the dome for their initial padded practice of camp because mid-afternoon rainstorms left the fields too wet on which to play. But Whisenhunt said that really isn't an issue.
"Space is a little more cramped," Whisenhunt said. "It's nice to have two fields and you don't have to worry about guys running into each other. But we have done a good job being smart about that. It's great we have this facility."
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