David Johnson darted out of the Texans’ backfield, a man uncovered in the red zone as he caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Adapting to his new role as a third-down back and backup to starter Mark Ingram after agreeing to a restructured contract this offseason, Johnson is making the most out of his opportunities. One year after becoming the Texans’ featured back following a controversial trade from the Arizona Cardinals for All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Johnson is now a complementary part of the Texans’ revamped offense.
Johnson played 22 snaps, 28 percent of the offensive playing time during a 37-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. He rushed for 10 yards on three carries and caught three passes for 18 yards and a 7-yard score on four targets.
“It felt great,” Johnson said. “It’s always good thing to score a touchdown on offense. To help out the offense, help out the team, get the morale going, especially when everybody has us losing. It’s always good to come out and score touchdowns and get a victory.”
Ingram rushed for 85 yards on 26 carries and one score, playing 36 offensive snaps. Phillip Lindsay, the primary backup running back, played 20 snaps and rushed for 25 yards on eight carries with one touchdown on a Wildcat play off a handoff from Ingram.
One year after finishing with 1,005 all-purpose yards and eight total touchdowns, Johnson is determined to have a productive season after being limited to a dozen games and six starts last season.
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.
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.
Johnson’s role has changed significantly, though, in how he’s utilized by offensive coordinator Tim Kelly.
“My fit is just whenever my number is called, being able to be productive for the offense,” Johnson said. “I think it just makes our offense so much more versatile when we can all produce in the running back group. As you can see, we all score touchdowns and do our part as a team, for the offense. I think that is really going to be good for us, not just now but in the long run. ..
“I think it’s just getting more comfortable. Last year was my first year on the team and then with everything with COVID, we didn’t get a chance to do a lot preparing for the season. This year, I think we are just getting more familiar with each other. (Kelly) can figure out ways to utilize me and utilize all the running backs and come up with creative plays or plays to get me out in space.”
The Texans envision dividing the workload, acknowledging the reality that injuries will happen during a 17-game season.
That could mean Johnson having a more prominent role at some point.
“The biggest thing is just keeping us healthy,” Johnson said. “Wear and tear as running backs, especially with them adding another game. I think that’s the biggest thing that we can all contribute. It’s not all so much to where I felt like I have to do so much to help out the offense, with all of us being great running backs. We can all do our part and help out the offense.”
The camaraderie in a running back room that includes five players, Ingram, Lindsay, Johnson, Rex Burkhead and Scottie Phillips, has consistently been characterized as a positive situation.
“It’s good,” Johnson said. “I think all of us can actually do the same things. I think the biggest thing with like you said being veterans, we can bounce ideas, we all can ask for advice and talk about what is going on during the game or during practice and just try to make each other better.”
Texans coach David Culley has already stated he’s going to roll with the hot hand at running back.
“I think he is just going to go with the game flow, what’s going on,” Johnson said, “what the defense is giving us, and we will see what happens.”
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.