The feet. The hands. The toughness.
All the traits that have turned Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson into one of the best pass-catching running backs since Marshall Faulk weren’t developed on the Pop Warner fields of his hometown of Clinton, Iowa.
They were made playing dodgeball in school gyms across Eastern Iowa.
Every day before practice he went through receiving drills in individual warm-ups, growing his route tree and building on a childhood of playing dodgeball and “razzle dazzle” catch in his backyard. It paid off. When he graduated, he was Clinton’s all-time leading receiver.
“He did just a great job of running patterns,” Camp said. “He’s got a knack for getting open and the biggest thing, I think, is just his drive to get the football. He’s going to go out and meet the football at the highest point or come back to the ball — do whatever he needed to make him have the best chance of catching the ball.”
“His pass-receiving skills are off the charts,” Arians said after drafting Johnson in May 2015. “But if you wanted to hand it to him 20, 25 times, he’s used to that.”
With the Cardinals at the midway point of the season, Johnson leads all running backs in receiving with 35 receptions for 407 yards. When quarterback Carson Palmer watches Johnson catch passes, Johnson’s receiving background is evident.
“His hands. His body control. Everything he does in the receiving game. The way he runs his routes,” Palmer said. “He runs his routes, whether it be a double move or a post, his rhythm and his footwork is in line with what we do with our receivers. Everything he does in the pass game looks receiver-like.”
Having that knowledge and experience made Johnson’s adjustment to being a pass catcher in the NFL “comfortable.” He wasn’t confused by the terminology, footwork or route combinations thrown at him earlier in his career.
“It wasn’t tough for me,” Johnson said. “I think that’s where I think it helped out that I played it in college.”