Another week, another roster preview for the Arizona Cardinals. Last week we took a look at the big uglies up front, the men tasked with protecting the quarterback and opening holes for the group we take a look at next. It is fitting to move from the offensive line towards the offensive backfield. Today, we take a look at the running backs, and what a new offense could mean for 2019.
RB1: David Johnson
RB2: Chase Edmonds
Green as Grass
In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln wrote to one of his Union generals, spurring the man to march his troops on Richmond, Virginia. Lincoln told General McDowell “You are green, it is true, but they are green[.]” Both sides were primarily comprised of young and inexperienced troops. The Cardinals’ running back room may need a bit of settling from their own commander as they feature just two players with three or more seasons of NFL experience. To say Arizona’s running backs are green, would be an understatement.
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The elder of the group is four-year veteran David Johnson. After a broken wrist forced him from all but three quarters in 2017, Johnson tallied over 250 carries in 2019, the second such instance in his short career. The Arizona offense was anemic at best, struggling to gain first downs, let alone putting points on the scoreboard. Now the running back must adjust to his fourth offensive coordinator in as many years, and go from a run dominated offense, to one where throwing the football has typically been the main attraction.
Behind Johnson, the depth chart is fairly wide open. Second-year player, Chase Edmonds, is the favorite to lock up the RB2 spot after a solid rookie year. Edmonds has the talent but did not receive many touches last season. T.J. Logan and D.J. Foster have both battled injuries, but are both dynamic running backs who can make plays in space. The three rookie running backs are talented and chomping at the bit. The enthusiasm and competition will be fierce, even if the experience is low.
Swift as the Winds
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is known for his use of the “Air-Raid” offense. It is something he picked up during his playing days under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. To call the offense as being pass-heavy, would be akin to saying an ocean is water-heavy, it is expected. Kingsbury may not run the exact offense as Leach, coaches always add a wrinkle to call it their own, but the pillars of crossing routes and multi-receiver sets are ever present. Kingsbury’s offenses are exciting and difficult to stop, standing in stark contrast to the drab and anemic offense employed by the Cardinals in 2018.
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The 2018 attack become nothing more than a cruel joke. Social media took to forecasting play calls, often finding success with a guess of an inside run. Kingsbury’s hire marked a change in offensive philosophy. Gone is the fullback position, in favor of a single running back used in space. Playing time for running backs will be dictated by how effective someone like Logan or Turner can be in the passing game. Johnson is a legitimate threat to top 1,000 yards as both a receiver and runner. Only two other running backs have accomplished the feat, Marshall Faulk in 1999, and Roger Craig in 1985.
Running backs in the scheme typically benefit from less defensive players in the box. Three and four receiver sets spread the field and isolate the running back against either a linebacker or safety. A player like Johnson, Edmonds, or Foster, would relish the opportunity to make a play against a single defender. The name of the game is optimizing the positional advantage.
The talent in the running back room is plentiful. It was one of the few positions on the roster where many felt the Cardinals were not weak. A deep pool leads to fierce competition on the field. Johnson’s spot as starter is among the safest on the team. Behind him is Edmonds, who many feel was underutilized in 2018. Seeing packages with both Johnson and Edmonds on the field, is both a real possibility, and a chilling thought for opposing defenses.
The battle for the third spot promises to excite. T.J. Logan and D.J. Foster have the NFL experience over the three rookies of Hills, Strickland, and Turner. However, both men have had little playing time at running back, having spent most of their combined experience on special teams. Training camp reps will be key in gauging which runners are likely to make the roster on opening day. Could the Cardinals keep five running backs on the roster? The likely number sits at four, with the last spot reserved for the runner who contributes most on kick duty.