Cardinals' David Johnson seeks an Air Raid renaissance

Orlovsky expecting to see '2016 David Johnson' in 2019 (1:27)

Dan Orlovsky and Louis Riddick are expecting good things from David Johnson in his first season with Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray. (1:27)

TEMPE, Ariz. -- After a disappointing 2018 season saw David Johnson misused by a now-departed coaching staff, the Arizona Cardinals running back has begun preparing for a resurgence in first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid scheme.

The Cardinals are still installing their base plays -- the foundation -- of their offense, so it's not entirely clear how Johnson will be used.

But he has an idea. And it looks awfully familiar.

"It's going to be similar to 2016," said Johnson, 27. "Shotgun's our home, which is good, because I did that in college and we had a running quarterback. So, I think it'll be good for me.

"I'll be utilized as a running back and a receiver."

That won't just be good for Johnson. It'll be good for the Cardinals and fantasy football owners.

If Johnson feasts, everyone feasts.

He captured the imagination of football fans in 2016 when he had 2,118 all-purpose yards (1,239 rushing, 879 receiving). But then suffered a fractured wrist in the first game of 2017 and missed the rest of the season. Last season, under coach Steve Wilks, Johnson was grossly mishandled by former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy for half the season and finished with 1,386 all-purpose yards (940 rushing, 446 receiving).

Another year, another coaching staff, and the good news for Johnson is that for the Air Raid to work to its full potential, it needs a running back with his skill set.

"You want the best receivers and versatile running backs," said Washington State coach Mike Leach, who is considered to be one of the masterminds of the Air Raid. "It's really kind of the same as everything. You teach pass protection. You teach ball skills, and then the running back is the most important player in it -- him and the quarterback.

"You're asking a running back to do things that they've been asked a long time to do, which is, run, block and catch. You think of guys like Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk, those are prime examples of guys who are great in this type of offense. James basically played in the Air Raid in Indianapolis."

At 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds, Johnson is bigger than both James and Faulk.

"A guy that big who moves like he does, that's pretty rare," Kingsbury said.

Johnson said the goal is to run 90 to 95 plays per game, primarily out of the shotgun and primarily no-huddle, which could provide more opportunities. During Kingsbury's six years at Texas Tech, running backs accounted for 43 percent of his team's touches, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.

Another component of the Air Raid that will benefit Johnson is its spread tendency. That means Johnson could get more touches in space.

"It's going to be really helpful because only having to worry about one guy tackling you, compared to three, four guys loading the box," Johnson said.

Johnson still has a goal of becoming the third player in NFL history to have 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season, and he thinks it is doable in this offense. But just having Johnson on the field being utilized like he is supposed to can give the Cardinals' offense an instant boost, Arizona guard Justin Pugh said.

"How do I see one of the best running backs in the NFL fit into our offense? I just see him doing his thing," Pugh said. "Obviously, we were down a lot of games last year, it was tough to get him in rhythm, so we're going to feed him. He's a monster.

"I think a lot of people are sleeping on him. That's good. I'd rather it be that way. And I'm looking forward to him proving a lot of people wrong, as with the rest of this offense."

Kingsbury hasn't watched Johnson's 2016 tape, opting to evaluate him with the naked eye this spring and summer. But Kingsbury said it's easy to see that Johnson has a natural route-running ability.

"You can tell he has that in him from college, that he's run routes before," Kingsbury said. "He looks like he'll be a tough matchup on some linebackers."

Lining up Johnson in the backfield alongside rookie quarterback Kyler Murray could be a matchup problem for everyone on defense -- and Murray already knows that.

Murray pointed out Johnson's versatility inside and outside the box, including Johnson's ability to line up as a receiver, as an example of how the two could complement each other.

"I think we'll be pretty versatile as far as me and him go," Murray said.

Even without a lot known about Kingsbury's scheme, Johnson already seems more comfortable this year than last year. And that's a dangerous thought.

"He's David Johnson for a reason," Murray said.