Johnson, Wood battling for 3rd RB spot

Johnson, Wood battling for 3rd RB spot
August 6, 2013, 8:00 am
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Dennis Johnson doesn’t think about the draft anymore.

The 5-7 running back, who spent four productive seasons at Arkansas, expected to hear his name called in late April but it never was.

Instead, the Texans picked up Johnson as an undrafted free agent and brought him in for rookie camp. Since then, he’s vaulted himself into the forefront of the third-string running back conversation.

“It was motivation,” Johnson said. “Everybody expects to get drafted but once you don’t get drafted, you just keep going. You get that opportunity and keep going.

“I don’t care about the draft no more because it’s over with. I’m in Houston now so I’m just trying to make the most of my opportunity.”

And the opportunity is great.

Johnson, along with fellow undrafted rookies Cierre Wood, Ray Graham and fourth-year player Deji Karim, are battling to be the Texans’ third-string running back this season behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate on the depth chart.

Like, Johnson, Wood – the other leading candidate for the roster spot – was disappointed when he didn’t get drafted in April. Wood had a very good three-year career at Notre Dame but was left without a team when all the picks were in.

“I let the disappointment last all of 20 minutes,” said Wood, who was called by the Texans immediately after the draft concluded. Wood joined the Texans after realizing the possibility of earning a roster spot behind Foster and Tate was great.

While Foster and Tate have been on the shelf this week, Johnson and Wood have looked good. But once the preseason games start on Friday, the coaching staff will start to get a better idea of what each player can bring to the team.

And with Foster (calf, back) and Tate (groin) banged up, all four should get plenty of reps on Friday night against the Vikings.

“I think there’s a pretty darn good chance you’re going to see them (against Minnesota),” head coach Gary Kubiak said. “Yeah, it’s a really good group. There are four young men, they haven’t missed a day. They’re a lot alike in a lot of ways. They’re all handling pass protection, which is impressive to me. We’re going to find us another back out of this deal. What an opportunity for them.”

If the Texans’ first two options at running back aren’t healthy on Friday, it’s likely Johnson would start his first preseason game in the NFL. He’s been working with the ones in practice.

“I’m very excited,” Johnson said about the first game. “I just can’t wait for it.”

Kubiak has been impressed with Johnson during training camp, calling him “a nice surprise.” Kubiak admitted it’s too early for Johnson to be starting but recognized that it’s a great opportunity.

Sure, Johnson and Wood are battling for a spot on the 53-man roster, but the new teammates have become close. According to Wood, the two help each other on the field and in the meeting room as much as possible.

Johnson left the SEC having led the powerhouse conference with 5,330 all-purpose yards in his college career. Johnson has been among the three players who have consistently worked as return men during camp. Wood has worked as a return man briefly but hasn’t gotten many reps there.

So who will win the third-string job?

“I feel like my chances are great. I’m doing everything that I can,” Wood said. “Nobody’s perfect. You’re gonna have a bad day or two, the thing is how you bounce back from those bad days.”

“It’s not up to me, it’s up to the coaches, so I just come out and work every day,” Johnson said.

All four running backs will get a chance to show they belong in the NFL in Minnesota on Friday and eventually, one of them will remain with the team for the season.
“I’m really excited,” Wood said. “I know I can play with the best of them. That’s the reason why I’m here. I just can’t wait for my opportunity to be on the field.”

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