Rookie Rashad Johnson gets some tips from assistant secondary coach Rick Courtright during an organized team activity.
The last two times the Cardinals have drafted a safety -- Antrel Rolle doesn't count -- it came in the third round.
Adrian Wilson turned out to be a pretty good pick. Rashad Johnson hopes people will one day say the same about him.
"That would be a goal, a dream," Johnson said after a recent workout. "Just like getting to the NFL was a goal, now that I am sitting here I want to achieve more. To have a career like Adrian is having … it looks like he could go another seven or eight years. To be like that, to be a franchise player and a leader, I will work for that day in and day out."
Where Johnson fits immediately isn't the starting lineup. It may not even be on defense much, depending how training camp plays out. The Alabama product – a free safety – will play a big role on special teams as a rookie (as Wilson did) but has a climb up the depth chart before defensive coordinator Bill Davis and secondary coach Teryl Austin will thrust him into schemes.
Johnson has shown he has the intelligence to learn the playbook. Davis already saw that in minicamp and the organized team activities and said Johnson is "ahead of the curve." That's playing in shorts, however. Unlike cornerbacks, who can flash what is to come in the offseason because their main job is coverage, Davis said safeties can't be evaluated properly until the pads come on and they show their ability to tackle.
"They have to stop the big plays," Davis said. "They are called safeties for a reason. That's his next step."
Davis is hesitant to project instant impact for Johnson. He said Johnson happens to remind him of Darren Perry, a rookie who immediately stepped into the lineup at safety when Davis was coaching in Pittsburgh.
But Perry was also the exception, Davis cautioned.
"If you show us you are ready, you'll play," Davis said. "It's just, the rookies, we know because you have seen it, it's the minority that can do it. They all think they can and talk like they can (but) he doesn't know what is coming. Until they feel it, experience it, they don't know what they don't know."
Johnson understands the situation. He has no worries about learning his job, since he said the Alabama system was as complicated as the one in Arizona. He was a walk-on in college who earned a scholarship playing strictly special teams, so he would embrace that route.
He isn't going to beat out Rolle at free safety either. But sorting through the implications of Johnson's presence – both short-term and long-term – creates interesting scenarios. Rolle's contract numbers jump high enough in 2010 that Rolle will need his contract re-worked and/or extended, and if it can't be, Johnson would be around to take Rolle's place.
In the short term, assuming Johnson's play on defense impresses, he is a prime candidate to beat out either Matt Ware or Aaron Francisco (or both) as a backup. He certainly would be a cheaper option and a way to save some cap room heading into the season.
Then again, Davis' planned use of multiple safeties may create extra safety spots on the roster. Rolle, the one-time cornerback, figures to play a lot of nickel/slot cornerback in passing situations. Wilson will often be used near the line of scrimmage in such situations.
If that happens, the Cards could end up using four safeties part of the time. And Johnson will have more of a shot to get on the field – playing next to Wilson.
"I think that's why they brought me in," Johnson said. "If I don't beat someone out, it means that guy is better. But I will be pushing him day in and day out."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 7/1/09.