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Cardinals O-line coach: Johnson's workload to surprise

The essence of Kliff Kingsbury's Air Raid offense resides in the passing attack, where quick strikes generally take precedence over the running game.

For just one example of how much Kingsbury's offense can eschew the run for pass, take a look at the box score for Texas Tech's famous 2016 tilt versus Oklahoma. In that loss, Patrick Mahomes, the Red Raiders' QB at the time, threw the ball 88 times for 734 yards and 5 TDs. The QB was also the leading ball carrier for Tech, toting it 12 times for 85 yards. All other players on the team totaled a combined 8 rushes for 36 yards in the 66-59 loss.

Throwing the ball 88 times might be an outrageous figure, but it underscores the point: Kingsbury's offense is pass-first, pass-almost always.

The question then, is what does that mean for Cardinals running back David Johnson's prospects toting the rock?

To hear offensive line coach Sean Kugler tell it, Johnson will have a bigger role carrying the ball than most analyzing Kingsbury's Air Raid system anticipate.

"I think people are going to be surprised by the amount that we do run the ball; it's a big part of this offense in addition to the screen game," Kugler said, via The Athletic's C.J. Holmes. "It's not just throwing it every down, and there's going to be a lot of physicality in this offense."

After missing all but one game in 2017, Johnson's return last year was mostly disappointing, as his usage became a frustrating enigma for Cards fans. Frankly, that he was able to generate 940 rushing yards in the worst offense in the NFL, and with his team trailing most every game, seems like a dang miracle in hindsight.

Johnson's usage under Kingsbury will be interesting to track once training camp opens in August. It's expected that the multifaceted running back will see more time moving around the formation, including an increase in his slot usage after the previous staff sorely underutilized the back in the passing attack. With a current lack of proven depth behind Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk, Johnson's role as a pass-catcher could be big.

Even if Johnson plays a significant role in the pass game, he's still a running back. Carrying the ball is his main job.

"Essentially, we have to figure out which plays David runs the best out of, what tracks work best for him on certain plays," Kugler said. "A lot of times, there might be a basic run play that every team implements, but the track might be different. We have to decide what's the best track for him and what's the best type of blocking for him on any particular play. Is it a man blocking scheme? Is it a zone blocking scheme? There's been a lot of great conversations on that."

The Athletic's Ted Nguyen went in-depth on Kingsbury's Air Raid attack in a brilliant piece breaking down the many aspects of the offense, if you'd like to dive deeper in to what we might anticipate from the Cardinals' new offense.

Kugler takes over an offensive line that struggled mightily the last few seasons. The veteran NFL assistant worked with the Steelers in 2010-2012 before a stint as UTEP's head coach. He returned as the Broncos interior offensive line coach in 2018. Kugler noted that the Cardinals plan for Johnson to be the primary back in a one-back offense.

"It'll be more out of a one-back set," he said. "Kind of like some of the one-back stuff we did in Pittsburgh with the power and counter and those types of things. We're implementing all of that. Inside, outside, there's going to be some hard ball added too."

Kingsbury joining the NFL is one of the most interesting storylines of the offseason mainly because we don't know exactly what to expect. There is a myriad of questions heading into the spring in Arizona. How David Johnson is used will continue to be one of them.

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