David Johnson is back and, he says, better than ever.
The Arizona Cardinals running back, an All-Pro in 2016, missed last season after dislocating his left wrist in the season opener. The wrist is healed and he is a full participant in the team's weight and conditioning program that began this week.
"I'm very motivated," he said Thursday. "It's not really about (showing) the people out there, it's really about myself and coming back for the team, for my teammates, for the coaches. Everything being so new, it's really about coming back and bouncing back and being able to play the sport."
By new, Johnson means the coaching staff. Bruce Arians, who utilized Johnson almost as much as a receiver as a ball carrier, has retired. New coach Steve Wilks brought in Mike McCoy as offensive coordinator. McCoy has talked about designing an offense around the ability of the players.
And that would mean a lot of David Johnson.
Drafted in the third round out of Northern Iowa in 2015, Johnson's multiple abilities as a runner and a receiver were on full display his second season under Arians' wide-open system.
Johnson led the league in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns in 2016, setting an NFL record by topping 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first 15 games. He probably would have made it 16 had he not injured a knee in the season finale against the Los Angeles Rams.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound back rushed for 1,239 yards that season and caught 80 passes for 879 yards. The performance earned him All-Pro honors at the flex position.
Because it was his wrist that was hurt in the opener at Detroit, Johnson could still run and do other workouts designed for him by strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris, who was retained by the new staff. Johnson said he probably is in the best shape of his life.
"We seen David all of last year, seeing him work out, running the field. We thought he could play every Sunday," teammate Patrick Peterson said. "He's always looking good. That guy's a freak of nature. I know he can't wait to get back on the field."
Getting Johnson in the weight room is no problem. Getting him not to overdo it is a challenge.
"He's a freak," Morris said. "I will never, ever take credit for anything David Johnson (does). I have to protect David from David to be honest with you, because he always wants to load the bar with more and more and more weight."
Johnson said he does that sometimes just to see Morris' reaction.
"I've always been a hard lifter in the weight room, ever since high school," Johnson said. "Buddy yesterday was telling me not to put so much on the squat rack, but sometimes I'm hard at listening to what he is saying. I know he has my best interest, but sometimes I feel like I need to put more weight on, and I like to get under his skin a little bit because it rattles him and he starts using these huge words that no one understands."
Being hurt, Johnson said, was "a blessing in disguise" because he's been able to spend so much time with his young son. There was no father in the picture when Johnson was growing up.
"That I didn't have a father figure in my life, it really pushed me to do everything I can for him," he said, "be at every milestone, be there for anything that's going on in his life. I've seen the little things, like his teeth growing, him walking, crawling, his laughing, just being there for every little thing that happens in his life. "
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