With so much talk over the past week focused on who 'might' be added to the Arizona Cardinals roster in the upcoming draft, sometimes we forget about the guys who are already here. Last year the Cardinals used a fifth round pick on a guy that most of us had never even heard of, much less seen, when they called the name Tim Hightower, a back from Richmond. By training camp the staff was raving about his potential and it didn't take long for Hightower to endear himself to the Cardinals faithful. After just seven games, he had already scored six touchdowns and he earned his first starting gig in week eight. After he recorded a great game against the Rams in his first start we all know that Hightower and the running game as a whole went downhill for the remainder of the season. He finished the season with just under 400 yards and ten touchdowns (the most for a Cardinals back since MacArthur Lane scored 11 in 1970) but the number that everyone focused on was his yards per carry (2.8).
After letting J.J Arrington walk in free agency, the Cardinals now enter the draft with Edgerrin James, Tim Hightower and newly acquired Jason Wright on the depth chart, but running back is still listed as the biggest need. James is expected to be released sometime very soon after the draft, but then again he's been waiting for that release since the day after the Super Bowl. Once James is released, Hightower will the be longest tenured Cardinals running back on the roster, but that doesn't guarantee him a thing. Most mocks, including ROTB's own, have the Cardinals selecting a running back with the 31st overall pick with the thought that whoever that back might be, will be the starter of the present and future. So what will Hightower's role be in 2009 and beyond?
Hightower will have the advantage of a year of experience under his belt and he's ready to have a bigger and better year in 2009. Darren Urban recently caught up with him and Hightower spoke about the advantages of having the entire off season to focus on working out and refining his game instead of traveling all over the country visiting teams prior to the draft. Hightower acknowledges that he wasn't in the best 'football shape' last year but now that he's dropped 15 pounds, he's ready for the next hurdle. An improved physique isn't Hightower's only advantage over an incoming rookie though, he's also got a year's worth of time getting to know the Cardinals offense and his team mates. Whether or not that'll be enough to hold off the likes of Chris "Beanie" Wells or Donald Brown remains to be seen, but for now Hightower is ready for the challenge.
How do you think Hightower and the running back groups as a whole will preform in 2009? Does Hightower have a realistic shot at keeping the starting job all year long if a first round pick is used on a running back?