TEMPE, ARIZ., SEPT. 27 -- The rookie with the shaved head and the gold replica of the Playboy bunny in his left ear concocted an odd little counter play when subjected to the old alma mater hazing routine in camp.
"Johnny Johnson, 16th-round draft pick from Awkward State," he said by way of introducing himself to his Phoenix Cardinals teammates during their evening feed.
Johnson, actually a seventh-rounder from San Jose State, has quickly shed his image as a flake and disciplinary problem, which led to his relatively low selection in the draft.
Johnson, who will test the Washington Redskins' defense in Sunday's rematch at Sun Devil Stadium, ranks second in the NFC in rushing and total yardage behind Chicago's Neal Anderson.
If the first impulse was to put him in a category with such talented rebels as Joe Don Looney and Duane Thomas, Johnson now is being compared to a more conventional and successful back, Earl Campbell.
Cardinals Coach Joe Bugel said he has not been associated with such a gifted runner since his days with Campbell and the Houston Oilers in the late 1970s. And he was not overlooking his years with John Riggins and the Redskins.
Despite suffering a hamstring injury on the first play of the game, Johnson rushed for 54 yards and caught six passes for 99 in the Cardinals' 31-0 season-opening loss to the Redskins.
He ran for 88 yards as the Cardinals upset the Philadelphia Eagles, 23-21, in the second game of the season.
Against New Orleans Sunday, he ran 22 times for 68 yards, plus a 25-yard carry that was nullified by a holding penalty.
The totals for three games: 58 rushes, 210 yards and one touchdown, plus seven receptions for 106 yards and a 15.1 average.
Although he possesses a deep-seated streak of individualism, Johnson has toned down his act to the point of imitating jaded vet-speak.
"Every week is a battle," the rookie said. "It doesn't let up."
The Cardinals plan to continue giving the ball to him often enough for him to reach the 1,000-yard plateau.
"If we don't, we're stupid," Bugel said.
At the rate he's going, Johnson is going to make a lot of teams look none too smart for passing on him in the draft. He was looked upon with suspicion after being kicked off the San Jose State squad last fall for skipping a couple of practices.
He also hurt himself by declining to indulge scouts with individual workouts following a session with the Indianapolis scouting combine in February.
"I know there's going to be a stigma attached to me," Johnson said. "If I miss a practice two years from now, it will start all over again. Statistics as a football player won't change it. Being reliable, not having my name in the paper in a negative way -- those are the ways I can change my rap." Flagler, Robinson Added to Roster
The Cardinals placed special teams captain Ron Wolfley on the injured reserve list with a shoulder sprain, waived rookie linebacker David Bavaro and signed two free agents -- running back Terrence Flagler and linebacker Jeroy Robinson.