David Johnson busted through a huge hole into the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ secondary, displaying more explosiveness than he had during a mostly quiet preseason.
The veteran running back’s impressive 21-yard run was the second-longest run of the game for the Texans behind Scottie Phillips’ 34-yard run during a 23-16 loss to the defending Super Bowl champions at NRG Stadium.
One year after a controversial trade to the Texans in exchange for All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and finishing with 1,005 all-purpose yards and eight total touchdowns, Johnson is determined to have a much more productive season after being limited to a dozen games and six starts last season. The Texans finished 31stin the NFL in rushing last season as they averaged just 91.6 rushing yards per contest.
Operating as the Texans’ third-down back and working in tandem with starter Mark Ingram II and backup Phillip Lindsay, Johnson figures into the equation as a proven change of pace.
Johnson entered Saturday with just one carry for a loss of one yard.
“He's very good in the backfield and proven that in his career and he's been good with the ball in his hand and going into this ballgame he had not had the ball in his hand that much and we wanted to make sure that happened,” Texans coach David Culley said.
When the Texans hired former New England Patriots executive Nick Caserio as their new general manager, he had plenty of decisions to make. Among them: whether to retain Johnson.
As Caserio learned more about Johnson’s character and work ethic and strong desire to remain with the Texans, he made it a priority to keep him and negotiated a restructured contract with a maximum value of $6 million with Johnson’s agents at Sportsstars Inc., Brian Mackler and Jonathan Perzley.
Now, Johnson’s contract includes a $3 million signing bonus and a fully guaranteed $1.25 million base salary, $4.25 million guaranteed at signing and a salary-cap figure of $4.82 million. Johnson can make an additional $750,000 in roster bonuses for being active every game, at a rate of $46,875 per game.
Johnson can make an additional $2 million in not likely to be earned incentives that include reaching statistical milestones, the playoffs and individual awards, including NFL Most Valuable Player and NFL Offensive Player of the Year.
Johnson was originally due a $7.95 million base salary with $2.1 million guaranteed from his three-year, $39 million contract acquired in a trade from the Arizona Cardinals.
“Most definitely, I wanted to come back here,” Johnson said. “We love the community here. We love the organization and what they did for me and my family, everything they did to get everything situated with the doctors, schooling. It was a pretty easy choice for me. It was just figuring out the contractual part of it and it worked out good."
The Texans rushed for 209 yards on 38 carries. During the preseason, the Texans showed a renewed emphasis on the running game as they rushed for 468 yards on 103 carries for averages of 156 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.
“He done a great job,” Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor said of Johnson. “He's done a great job all camp but it was good to see him and I sold him on the sideline, it was good to see him make some of those plays from the running back position, not necessarily in the passing game but in the running game, as well, too. All our backs done a great job tonight and we are going to need them. It's going to be a vital part of our offense moving forward.”
Johnson rushed for 691 yards and six touchdowns and caught 33 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns last season. Johnson generated at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the fourth time in his career.
Johnson averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season.
Toward the end of last season, Johnson increased his production with a season-high 128 rushing yards and a score on 12 carries in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and 84 yards on 14 carries in a season-ending loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly wants the Texans to have a lot better balance after rushing for just 1,466 yards and 4.3 per carry on just 344 running plays last season.
“I'm very excited about that he wants to run the ball,” Johnson said. “Especially as a running back and with the dudes we have on the line, I'm excited. I think it's going to be really good for us. We're rotating and we're going to have a lot more fresh bodies in the running back room and pounding the rock and being able to help out the offense."
Phillips, who led the Texans with 155 yards on 25 carries during the preseason, was the leading rusher with 73 yards followed by Ingram’s 44 yards on 11 carries, Lindsay’s 17 yards on six carries and Buddy Howell’s 16 yards on four carries.
“Buddy has been that way all through training camp,” Culley said. “He's tough, all our backs are that way. That's what he does best. He's a very physical runner and when he goes down -- and our upfront people get him to the line of scrimmage, it's always a positive play for us and he breaks a bunch of tackles.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.