For the last three seasons the Arizona Cardinals have featured a pass-heavy, wide receiver favoring offense, while the running game took a back seat. After Tim Hightower revamped his game and the Cardinals added three new running backs to the roster, a new sheriff arrived in town. The Cardinal finally had added a legit rushing attack to their team. In continuation of our State of the Roster segment, the running backs will be next on the list.
Age and 2009 Stats: 21 years old (08/07/1988) - 793 rushing yards, 4.5 YPC, 7 touchdowns
Contract Status: Signed through 2013
2009 Analysis: As Well's name was heard through Radio City Music Hall on day one of the draft, a soothing sense of relief struck most Arizona Cardinal fans. A feared rusher had been added to a Cardinals roster that it had missed the year before after coming up short in the Super Bowl. Although Beanie Wells didn't begin the year with the sense of tenacity that was anticipated, he eventually found is groove at the halfway point of 2009. A vicious stiff arm, accompanied with a will for an extra yard was what Wells was all about on game day. He strung off seven games in which he had 65 rushing yards or more, and ended his first season with a 4.5 average. Down the stretch, Wells would find himself staring the starting role in the face, and we may see that at the start of 2010.
2010 Outlook: Beanie looks poised to take the starting role out of the grasp of Tim Hightower, barring an injury or a major meltdown in his sophomore season. He progressed as the 2009 season elapsed, and with 18 games under his belt and plenty of rookie experience, he's surely well prepared. The 2010 season could be the start of something great if Beanie surpasses the 1,000 yard mark.
Age and 2009 Stats: 22 years old (05/23/1986) - 598 rushing yards, 4.2 YPC, 8 touchdowns, 63 catches, 428 yards
Contract Status: Signed through 2010
2009 Analysis: In his second year, Tim Hightower rushed for nearly 600 yards and eight touchdowns, proving that his rookie season was no fluke. What he brought to the team was an uncanny veteran presence, and a new found running style that we weren't accustomed to seeing the previous year. While his goal line effectiveness wasn't as successful, we saw an abundant amount of runs of 10 yards or more that didn't exist before. Hightower also surprised many fans when he caught 63 passes, good for 3rd on the team. The biggest area of concern surrounding Hightower however, was his tendency to put the ball on the ground, a misfortune that occurred five times during 2009.
2010 Outlook: While Hightower's 22 year old legs remain a commodity in Arizona for the future of the franchise, his starting role may be in jeopardy sooner then later. Beanie Wells aggressive style may have already earned him 2010's starting role, which means we may see less of Tim and more of Beanie. On a positive note, inserting Hightower in third down situations may be more beneficial to him considering his pass blocking and pass catching skills improved dramatically this past season.
Age and 2009 Stats: 22 years old (04/26/1987) - 83 receiving yards, 1 touchdown, 1 KR touchdown, 18 tackles
Contract Status: Signed through 2011
2009 Analysis: LSH, or LaRod Stephens-Howling, made the most of his time in his first NFL season. After feeling the emotions of being drafted in the 7th round, Stephens-Howling had his work cut out for him in 2009. He successfully made the team with his immense special teams play in the preseason. What we saw out of LSH in the regular season was a speedy back that could be a potential threat receiving out of the backfield if he was given the chance. Where he really shined was special teams, in which he returned a kick for a touchdown, had several key tackles, and recovered a handful of punts within the opponent's 10 yard line.
2010 Outlook: The future in Arizona is bright with the young back. After being a long shot to even make the team, it seems like Stephens-Howling will provide an even greater contribution to the Cardinals next year. He will likely handle kick return duties, and special teams coverage. The wild card will be whether or not he sees more reps on offense. As long as he can keep improving, then there should be no reason why LSH doesn't get the ball in his hands more next season.
Age and 2009 Stats: 27 years old (07/12/1982) - 70 total yards, 2 touchdowns, 20 tackles
Contract Status: Signed through 2010
2009 Analysis: What we know right now is that Jason Wright is essentially the fourth string running back after the emergence of LaRod Stephens-Howling. He didn't get many looks this past season, only attempting three rushes all year long. He did see a lot of special teams play, and ended the year with 20 tackles.
2010 Outlook: While Wright is signed through next year, it could be the last season that we see him in a Cardinal uniform. He's not expected to participate in the offense frequently, and would only serve as a back up should one of the primary backs listed above be injured. He will however, receive plenty of special teams playing time.
Age and 2009 Stats: 32 years old (03/11/1977) - 4 receptions, 20 yards
Contract Status: 2010 free agent
2009 Analysis: If it weren't for a few catches and one tackle, 2009 would've looked like a year in which Kreider was out of the league. Fortunately, most fullback's bread and butter is blocking for the running backs. Although it's hard to judge a running back's production based on the surrounding cast, it should go duly noted that the Cardinals rushing game greatly increased after the Cardinals picked up Kreider in 2009.
2010 Outlook: Kreider will be a free agent, and at the age of 32, there's still a possibility that the Cardinals will resign him. Fullbacks usually have a longer lifespan in the NFL and I'd imagine the Cardinals will give him a opportunity to plead his case. Whisenhunt likes keeping a fullback on the roster and there aren't many options on the market besides Kreider. We may see him return next year.
Age: 25 years old (07/06/1984)
Contract Status: Signed to future contract
Age: 27 years old (11/04/1982)
Contract Status: Signed to an undisclosed contract
2010 Outlook for both: Neither Maui'a or Broughton saw extensive playing time in 2009. Maui'a was part of the Cardinals practice squad for the most of the year, while Broughton spent time with the Giants. Both are massive specimens that could potentially turn into devastating blockers if they see playing time, but they're also very raw and could become a liability on offense. With Kreider possibly leaving via free agency, both have probable shots at making the team in 2010.
Overview and needs
The Cardinals find themselves in a favorable situation in the upcoming years, with a stable of running backs all being 22 years of age or younger, and none of them becoming free agents this year. The glaring hole remains at fullback, a position that they've shuffled around the last few years, and it looks to occur this offseason as well. The Cardinals have two young prospects signed to future contracts, but could make a run for another potential fullback when free agency begins. Tony Richardson and Justin Griffith will be available, while fan-favorite Terrelle Smith is also on the open market.
Running back will be the lowest of needs heading into free agency and the draft, and it's relief to type those words this year. What are your thoughts on the Cardinals running back and fullback situation and should the Cardinals sign a different fullback to the starting roster for the third straight year?