Caulton Tudor

Ex-Pirates Johnson and Summers in battle for Cards' RB roster spot

Posted August 28

Arizona Cardinals running back James Summers (45) is tripped up by Atlanta Falcons defensive end Chris Odom (93) during the second half of an NFL football game, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

When NFL teams have to reduce player rosters to 53 by Sept. 3, it’ll be very interesting from a North Carolina perspective to follow the Arizona Cardinals running back developments.

The National Conference West team selected former UNC standout T.J. Logan in the fifth round of the April draft, but former ECU players Chris Johnson and James Summers either may wind up on the season-opening roster or battling for one of the last spots before final cuts.

The chain of events actually started when former Northern Guilford High star Logan, in the Cards first preseason game on Aug. 5, suffered a wrist that required surgery that will keep him inactive until midseason.

The injury opened the playing-time door for Summers, who led Greensboro Page to a 15-0 record and NCHSAA 4-AA title in 2011. In two seasons at ECU, the 6-3, 220-pounder did a bit of everything and anything – quarterback, running back, wide out and slot – but wasn’t picked in the NFL Draft and signed as a free agent in May.

In preseason, Summers outplayed fellow Pirate alum Chris Johnson, once football’s fastest runner and the No. 4 active all-time rusher.

Summers has rushed 13 times for 52 yards and has a touchdown. Johnson has 41 yards on 13 carries. Both trail Eli Penny. The No. 1 running back spot is likely to be David Johnson, but ex-Clemson star Andre Ellington is also in the mix.

At age 31 and in his 11th pro season, Chris Johnson already has whipped NFL age odds for his position and hasn’t played a full season since gaining 663 yards for the New York Jets in 2014. And when Summers was just getting started at Page High in 2009, Johnson was rushing for 2,006 yards and 14 TDs for the Tennessee Titans.

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How the final running back pecking order plays out will be up to Cards head coach Bruce Arians, who began his coaching career as a graduate aide at Virginia Tech in 1975, and position coach Fred Kitchens.

The Cardinals are coming off a 7-8-1 finish, but had won 34 games during the previous three seasons under Arians.

Dayes, Hood producing

Meanwhile, running back rookies Matt Dayes for Cleveland and Elijah Hood for Oakland could also make their teams' final rosters, although they didn’t go until the seventh round of the draft.

Dayes, NC State’s top runner last season, has rushed for 37 yards on 11 carries for the Browns, but is No. 2 on the team in pass receptions with eight catches for 37 more yards. Isaiah Crowell is expected to be the No. 1 running back, just ahead of Duke Johnson.

Hood, who played prep ball at Charlotte Catholic, teamed with Logan at Carolina and has rushed eight times for 32 yards in the Raiders preseason. Marshawn Lynch is expected to be the team’s No. 1 running back, but Hood, DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard are in the mix for No. 2.

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