The Thinker: David Johnson His Own Critic As He Seeks Perfection

Running back David Johnson has been critical of himself this season.
Running back David Johnson has been critical of himself this season.

David Johnson, admittedly, will overthink things.

That’s on the football field for sure, but also, he acknowledged, when he plays video games. Or when he’s trying to hang out with his infant son.

“That’s who I am,” Johnson said with a smile. “My wife is always correcting me, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ When he’s crying, how to stop him from crying. My wife is pretty good at that.”

For the last couple of weeks, the running back has bluntly and publicly called himself out for his mistakes, whether it was the missed pass protection against the Bears that led to him being off the field late in the game or the way he ran to the wrong hashmark at the end of the Seahawks’ game.

Johnson said he is frequently up all night after a game revisiting the plays on which he made a mistake, and he’ll do the same after practice.

“(Tight end) Jermaine (Gresham) is always telling me, ‘Move on to the next play,’ ” said Johnson, who knows to think too much could ultimately hinder a play or two in the future.

“David is a professional, and every week, every day at practice, every game, he wants to play the perfect game,” offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said. “You can’t do that. You strive for that, obviously, but you’re going to make some mistakes.”

Johnson said he “definitely” doesn’t think he’s played well enough this season, and that goes far beyond the stats (187 yards rushing on 56 carries, 13 receptions for 104 yards, two touchdowns.) McCoy said Johnson is a perfectionist, like the great ones are.

“I don’t know any great players who have been easy on themselves about things they feel they left on the field, on the diamond, on the basketball court,” wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, are the most critical of themselves. They hold themselves to a level of play that no one else (can).

“I watch myself on tape and I never see anything good. I only see the negative – the false step at the line of scrimmage, the stepping over myself at the top of the route. It doesn’t matter if I make the catch or touchdown. It’s what did I do wrong.”

The overthinking might be making it harder on Johnson – McCoy said sometimes, he wants Johnson to “just play” – but the running back believes it will benefit him in the long run.

“I’m always hard on myself,” Johnson said. “I feel that’s how I improve.”

MCCOY MATTER-OF-FACT ABOUT CRITICISM

McCoy has been coaching in the NFL since 2000, and this is his sixth season as an offensive coordinator in addition to the four seasons he spent as a head coach with the Chargers. He has been subject of criticism many times before, and understands that which has popped up this season.

“It’s part of the business,” McCoy said. “If I couldn’t handle that, I shouldn’t be doing my job. I love what I do. Regardless of what happens Sunday to Sunday, you come in Monday morning, you work your tail off, you put that next plan together, be positive with our play, we coach them hard, we’re going to come in here, do whatever we can to win the next one – regardless of what your record is, good, bad, indifferent.

The Cardinals have had a poor start statistically on offense but are coming off their best game all-around as Josh Rosen took over as quarterback and Johnson got a season-high 25 touches.

“You’ve got to have thick skin,” McCoy said. “It’s a humbling business. I tell the players that too. You go into a season thinking things will be a certain way, you go into a game and think things are a certain way, all of a sudden, you don’t make that play, you don’t call a certain play at a certain time and wake up the next day and think, ‘God, if we just would’ve done this one thing.’ … You always look back, regardless of winning or losing.”

NKEMDICHE LEAVES PRACTICE

All four of the players who sat out practice Wednesday for the Cardinals – wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring/back), defensive tackle Corey Peters (elbow), defensive end Markus Golden (knee) and cornerback Bené Benwikere (neck) were back practicing Thursday on a limited basis.

But defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who began practice working, left during the open portion of the session to have an athletic trainer look at his foot. Nkemdiche’s foot had landed him on the injury report earlier this season. He was officially limited as well. Also limited for the Cardinals were linebacker Josh Bynes (wrist), tight end Jermaine Gresham (Achilles), cornerback Jamar Taylor (back) and tackle John Wetzel (shoulder).

For the 49ers, cornerback Richard Sherman (calf) returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting Wednesday, as did wide receiver Marquis Goodwin (hamstring/quad), tackle Mike McClinchey (knee) and center Weston Richburg (knee). Also limited were running back Matt Breida (shoulder) and guard Mike Person (knee).

Sitting out were tackle Joe Staley (knee), and wide receiver Dante Pettis (knee).

Images from past matchups between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the 49ers

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