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NFL rookie David Johnson already a Hall of Famer, or at least his jersey is

NFL rookie David Johnson already a Hall of Famer, or at least his jersey is
Cardinals running back David Johnson turns the corner on Bears free safety Adrian Amos. (Steve Lundy / Associated Press)

They are terrifying words, a directive every young NFL player dreads.

"We need you to come in — and bring your playbook."

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Arizona rookie David Johnson heard a variation of that Monday from the Cardinals, although the intent was distinctly different.

"We need you to come in — and bring your jersey and cleats."

Those items are headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Just two games into his pro career, Johnson has left an indelible mark. He had a 55-yard touchdown catch in the opener against New Orleans, and Sunday at Chicago scored on a 108-yard kickoff return and a 13-yard run.

Johnson, a third-round pick from Northern Iowa, is the first player in NFL history with a rushing touchdown, receiving touchdown and kickoff-return touchdown in his first two games. He's also the first Cardinals player to have a kickoff-return touchdown and a rushing touchdown in the same game since Hall of Famer Ollie Matson did so on Dec. 13, 1958.

"I didn't even really believe it at first when somebody told me about it," Johnson said by phone Monday, referring to the request for his jersey and cleats. "I just thought they were joking. To just hear that coming out of their mouths, that I'd have a jersey or some cleats in Canton. Man, it's remarkable. It's an amazing feeling."

Said David Baker, president and executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame: "We're in the business of preserving history, and for a guy to have made history in his second game is pretty special."

There was a time Johnson had serious doubts he'd wind up in the NFL, let alone make such an impression so early.

"The low point was probably my junior year," he said. "I wasn't getting talked about much. I was a small-school guy. I didn't have the very outstanding numbers that you need. A lot of the scouts who were talking to me said that I was a small-school guy, and they didn't know if I would be able to compete among the caliber of players in the league. That was a little discouraging to hear. They were on the fence on whether I'd be drafted."

As a senior, Johnson ran for 1,553 yards with 17 touchdowns and set a slew of school records, including career marks in yards rushing, all-purpose yards and touchdowns. The Cardinals had more than a passing familiarity with the school, which is also Kurt Warner's alma mater. What's more, Johnson knows hard work. While some players get the silver-spoon treatment and cushy summer jobs, Johnson got a scraper and screwdriver. He worked one sweltering summer tearing out asbestos from schools and apartment buildings in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"We had to wear a full suit with a mask," he said. "That was definitely a hot job. There was no A/C because they didn't want to spread the asbestos. I definitely lost more weight than I expected that summer."

The remainder of his college summers he worked as a maintenance man at his school, fixing broken desks, lights, doors and the like. "A lot less stressful," he said. "I wasn't too tired to lift weights after I was done."

Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians was asked Monday what has surprised him most about Johnson, who had missed a chunk of training camp because of a tear in his left hamstring.

"Really nothing," Arians said. "Because everything we saw on tape in college, he's brought to the table. The biggest thing is his maturity level. Having missed all that time with the hamstring in camp you didn't get to see his maturity every day. He is still growing as a player. Had he had all of that time maybe his role would be bigger."

Arians said Johnson will remain the starting running back, and he "will have a vital role every week. Just how big, we will wait and see."

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His coach might not be surprised, but Johnson said his teammates were when he scored on the catch and carry that covered 55 yards against the Saints.

"A lot of guys thought I was going to run out of bounds," he said. "They didn't know I had an angle. I think they didn't know I was that fast, to be able to outrun the DBs who were pursuing me. When I got to the sidelines, a lot of guys came over and said, 'I didn't know you were that fast.'"

Two weeks into his career and he's already reached Canton? Even Johnson didn't know he was that fast.

East mode

Atlanta is 2-0 with victories over Philadelphia and the New York Giants. The Falcons play at Dallas on Sunday, with the Cowboys missing injured quarterback Tony Romo. It's entirely possible that new Falcons Coach Dan Quinn could be three weeks into the season with victories over 75% of the NFC East.

Dire straits

Not only is Chicago 0-2, but also the Bears have been outscored by a league-high 33 points. It won't get any easier this week when they head to Seattle for the Seahawks' home opener. The pressure is cranked up on the defending NFC champions, too, after their losses at St. Louis and Green Bay. The Seahawks are in danger of undefeated Arizona taking a commanding lead in the NFC West.

No more Johnny Bench?

The Browns are considering keeping Johnny Manziel as their starting quarterback even when Josh McCown is cleared to return from his concussion. They play host to Oakland on Sunday.

"Johnny has made a lot of progress in the right direction," Browns Coach Mike Pettine said Monday, a day after Manziel threw touchdown passes of 60 and 50 yards in a 28-14 victory over Tennessee. "Still a lot of things to get cleaned, but we certainly feel like the arrow is up."

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer

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