Smart moves: Cardinals’ RB Kenyan Drake digs into playbook

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Kenyan Drake was a revelation for the Arizona Cardinals last season, providing a versatile, productive running back after his midseason trade from the Miami Dolphins in October.

There’s reason to believe 2020 can be even better: After all, the 26-year-old Drake now actually knows what he’s doing.

Drake spent the offseason digging into the Cardinals’ playbook, understanding the nuances of Kliff Kingsbury’s fast-paced, Air Raid-style offense. Instead of simply grabbing the ball and running, he’s learning how his role in the offense fits in with all the other pieces.

“The biggest challenge has been just learning the ‘why’ behind a lot of the plays,” Drake said. “Last year I was really given the ability to go, get the plays, make the best of the situation, and as the weeks went on they would feed me more information.”

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“This year, I was able to start from scratch and get the meat and potatoes.”

Drake and Chase Edmonds hope to provide a productive duo in the backfield for what looks like an offense loaded with playmakers. Kingsbury loves to throw the ball and Arizona should certainly have that ability with second-year quarterback Kyler Murray and receivers DeAndre Hopkins, Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk.

But Kingsbury said one of the biggest things he learned during last season, which was his first as a head coach in the NFL, is that a productive running game is crucial for success.

That wasn’t always present for the Cardinals in 2019. Veteran David Johnson was the starter at the beginning of the year, but injuries and inconsistency quickly relegated him to a smaller role. Edmonds looked like a future star once he took the starting job, running for a career-high 126 yards and three touchdowns against the New York Giants, but a hamstring injury late in that game affected him the rest of the year.

That led to the Cardinals trading for Drake, who ran for 110 yards in his first game in the desert after coming from Miami. He finished with 643 yards rushing and scored eight touchdowns over eight games, including a memorable four-touchdown performance in a win against the Cleveland Browns.

Kingsbury said he’s admired Drake’s ability for years, dating back to when he was a star at Alabama. The coach added that the fifth-year player is even bigger than he thought at 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, and has the desire and demeanor to become one of the NFL’s best running backs.

“We’ve all been thrilled with what we’ve got since he’s come to this organization,” Kingsbury said.

During the offseason, Johnson was traded to the Houston Texans in the surprising deal that brought Hopkins to the Cardinals. That leaves Drake and Edmonds as the team’s feature backs. The two have embraced the competition on the field and quickly become good friends off it.

“It’s a team game, we really related to each other in our situation, started hanging out off the field a little more,” Edmonds said. “That’s my guy, man. We’re just trying to be the best backfield we can be. Put the load on us.”

Edmonds ran for just 16 total yards in the season’s final six games after his hamstring injury. Kingsbury hasn’t forgotten how good the 24-year-old Edmonds can be when healthy.

“We all feel like he’s a starting running back in this league and he does too,” Kingsbury said. “When he had his opportunities he shined. He continues to shine. He can catch it, run it, block, play special teams and he’s really bright football-wise.

“He’s everything you want and we couldn’t be more impressed by him as a true pro.”

Edmonds said he isn’t concerned about personal stats during the upcoming season. He added that when there’s players like Hopkins, Fitzgerald, Kirk and Drake on the roster, there’s probably a good chance somebody’s always going to want more touches.

“I know when my number is called I’ll be ready,” Edmonds said. “I’ll be ready to have whatever role they want me to have. … We’ve got a lot of playmakers to feed the ball and that’s a good problem to have, if you ask me.”

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