Ken Whisenhunt ushered in a new era in Arizona Cardinals' football two days ago when he started Tim Hightower at running back. The results were very promising after just one game as Hightower turned in the most rushing yards for the Cardinals since December of last year. His 30 yard touchdown run was also the longest rush for the Cardinals since J.J. Arrington ran for 32 yards in week seven of the 2005 season. While most of us agree with the switch, there are some questions that Whiz must answer now. The biggest question is pretty clear: What is Edgerrin James' role in this offense if he isn't the starter? That would seem like simple question with a simple answer being that Edge should be the backup, but against the Rams J.J Arrington was the backup. Not only did Edge not touch the ball, he also didn't even step on the field. Given that the Cardinals totaled 177 yards on the ground and Hightower and Arrington combined for 227 total yards, Edge might have a hard time getting on the field in the future.
While Edge is as experienced and accomplished as any player in this league, it's hard to find what he does better than either Hightower or Arrington. His ability to block would be the obvious choice but Hightower has shown the ability to pick up a blitzer when he's been given the opportunity. Whisenhunt said in his press conference yesterday that Edge was still a 'valuable' part of this team and that he would be needed. What Whisenhunt didn't specify though was when or how Edge would be needed or what his role would be the remainder of the season. However they decide to use Edge, there are a couple things working against him:
Big Play Ability: Hightower and Arrington each had a 30 yard rush against the Rams and they combined for six carries of at least 15 yards (and an 18 yard carry by Hightower was wiped out by a penalty). Edge hasn't had a 30 yard carry since 2005 when he was with the Colts. James was never much big play threat but the past couple of seasons he's lost the explosive burst that allowed him to get through a hole and into the second level of a defense. He's also lost the ability to make people miss. Hightower's touchdown run was simply a run that Edge could not have made. Hightower broke to the outside and was one on one with a defender but a few stutter steps and a quick juke left the defender hugging air.
The Emergence of JJ: Going into the season, we all thought the running back situation was pretty clear with an experienced veteran, a promising rookie and a second round bust who we weren't even sure would make the team at the start of camp. Fast forward eight games and that second round bust is looking like a player who finally 'gets it.' Arrington has logged his first 30 yard carry since his rookie season and he set a new career long with a 35 yard reception against the Rams. After being inactive for the first four games, Arrington is playing well enough to warrant more opportunities each game.
I'm sure there will come a point this season when the Cardinals need a contribution from Edge but on a regular Sunday when Hightower and Arrington are healthy, it'll be interesting to see how much they allow him to get in the game. To his credit, he's handled the demotion much better than most (myself included) would have expected, but I'm sure that he still believes he's the best back on the roster. How would you handle the RB corps? Would/Should Edge get playing time each week or is he just an insurance policy now?