I want to preface this article by stating that I’m a David Johnson believer. It wasn’t that long ago that he was the most feared RB in football. He was just as dominant as Todd Gurley or Alvin Kamara. Yet one season lost to injury, and the next being stuck in one of the NFL’s worst offenses (in history), has led to everyone seemingly forgetting this man’s elite talent. His dynasty stock is plummeting, despite a low amount of carries on his body, and despite a revamped offense heading into 2019.
Something that I believe will be a big factor in his campaign is the signing of Sean Kugler. Most Cardinals coaching attention has centered around the hire of Kliff Kingsbury, leaving the Kugler hire to slide under the radar.
Kugler is the Cardinals’ new O-line coach after coming over from Denver. He has a strong resume when it comes to O-lines that produce impressive rushing displays. Just last year, as an example, we saw the innovativeness that Denver displayed in order for Phillip Lindsay to become a standout RB. On many of his runs, Lindsay was rushing untouched for 10+ yards. The Broncos O-line was elite when healthy in 2018. They were performing at a high level until Ronald Leary and Matt Paradis went on IR.
Prior to his time in the Mile High City, Kugler was the head coach at UTEP from 2013-2017. Although his Miners team as a whole didn’t perform to a high standard, there is one department they did thrive in: rushing the football. The offense produced the likes of Aaron Jones, who had a high of 1,773 yards and 17 rushing TDs in the 2016 season. Furthermore, he was instrumental in the development of NY Giants 2nd round guard Will Hernandez.
Preceding his UTEP days, Kugler was the offensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2010 to 2012. In that time, we saw career years from Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Dwyer. Mendenhall even rushed for 1,273 yards and 13 TDs in 2010. Furthermore, Kugler was allegedly contributory in recruiting both Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
In a funny turn of events, Kugler had spent a couple of years working alongside Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh. Following the end of his tenure with UTEP, Kugler actually spent time with the Cardinals. He was personally invited by Arians to be a guest coach for the remainder of the 2017 season. Kugler had stepped away from UTEP midseason, and Arians invited him to spend the rest of that year under his wing. In that short time frame, there were numerous outspoken positive reports regarding Kugler from Cardinals personnel. Arians and DJ Humphries both stated that they learned a lot in such a short window.
Now leading the way for Arizona, Kugler has already established relationships with some of his O-line contingent. He has previously worked with AQ Shipley in Pittsburgh, and Kugler’s son was teammates with Mason Cole in college; Kugler also coached Cole previously at the 2018 Senior Bowl.
There are reports that Kugler was wanted by Cleveland, Miami, the NY Jets, and Tampa Bay prior to accepting the Cardinals position, and it’s easy to see why. His history of developing strong offensive lines, which in turn produce strong rushing seasons for RBs, is remarkable.
All of that being said, I see this as a positive sign for David Johnson. Last year we saw just how awful the Cardinals O-line was. As soon as he received the ball, he was regularly swarmed by numerous defenders. Kugler’s hire can only be viewed as an upgrade in the coaching department. Combining Kugler’s track record with Klingsbury’s creativity (which seems far more innovative than that of 2018 Cardinals OC Mike McCoy), plus the improved offensive talent added through the draft, and DJ is looking primed for a bounce-back campaign. If Kugler can help turn Mendenhall, Aaron Jones, and Phillip Lindsay into high-end performers, then he can certainly have that effect on David Johnson in 2019.
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