The running back unit on this team has always had high hopes placed on them, but whatever the reason the Cardinals just cannot get a consistent ground game going, the last 1000 yard back here was Edgerrin, who really proved his quality during his time here, running behind a poor offensive line and still racking up back to back 1000 yard seasons. In 2010 the Cardinals finished 32nd in rushing yards, as drop from the 6 year high of 28th set in 2009, and the 2nd time since Ken Whisenhunt arrived and the 3rd time in the past 6 seasons they had finished dead last in rushing.
The Cardinals have ranked 20th or worse in rushing yards in the NFL every year bar one since the turn of the millennia that year being 2002 when they finished 15th. On the brightside the 2010 year did see then churn out a few big plays on the ground and finished a respectable 10th equal in YPC, but the underlying problem is an issue.
2007 was Edgerrin James’ final year with the team, and also the first for Tim Hightower, the former Spider and fifth round selection was never meant to have the impact he has, but he has been a very pleasant surprise with the ball in hand, and managed to find an extra gear in 2010 to break off some long runs, however basic errors such as dropping passes and fumbles have soured the solid overall game of Hightower who is capable of being a true 3 down back.
In 2009 the Cardinals thought they had found their feature back in Chris "Beanie" Wells but after an impressive rookie season he struggled to make an impact in 2010, injuries, game situations and outside influences led to a poor season.
Wells has a chance to seize the starting job in 2011
Obviously the ground game is of a high priority to the Cardinals coaches as in the 2011 draft they added Ryan Williams, the rsSo from Virginia Tech burst onto the scene as a rsFr, before battling through a crowded backfield and injuries to post a subpar 2010 season. A real surprise to even enter the draft, the surprise was magnified when the Cardinals, a team thought to have their future on the ground already on the roster snapped him up early on in the 2nd round. How he will fit into another crowded backfield in Arizona is a question without any clear answers at this stage, but he will get carries.
The fourth back and special teams ace Larod Stephens-Howling, LSH or the Hyphen is somewhat of a fan favourite, but his role is not likely to be on offense in the future, despite continual statements the team wants to get the diminutive runner into the lineup more often, the actions speak louder than words, and he has not seen as many touches on offense as he could have, still his value as an all round special teamer means he more than deserves a spot on the roster.
Running backs will be a position to really keep an eye on if and when Training Camp opens. It is really an open competition between the top three backs Williams, Wells and Hightower, solid running up the middle and ball security will be keys to winning the job. Wells will likely have a chip on his shoulder to come out and make the job his, a motivated 6-1 230 pound back with sneaky speed could be a great sight for Cardinals fans, but his tendency to pick up niggling injuries that limit his effectiveness is a worry. Tim Hightower as mentioned earlier is a back who is a legitimate threat on all three downs, but he can tend to "dance" a little in the backfield when he should hit a hole and take the 3 or 4 yards on offer. He needs to improve his ball security and overall efficiency, it is really a make or break season for Hightower who could be the team’s starting back in week 1, or he could find himself looking for a new team. Ryan Williams is going to be the wildcard. He has the ability to stamp his authority on the position and start from day one if he shows up in shape and ready to work, but more than likely he will be a rotational back as a rookie, and his in game performances will dictate how the running back position will shape up coming into 2012.
All four mentioned are near locks for the roster at this stage with very little competition posed by the likes of Alphonso Smith and Jason Wright seemingly leaning towards calling it a day in the NFL.
Week 1 Depth Chart
RB1: Beanie Wells
RB2: Ryan Williams
RB3: Tim Hightower
End of Season Depth Chart
RB1: Beanie Wells
RB2: Ryan Williams
RB3: Tim Hightower
Key Performer: Beanie Wells, If Wells can put his promise on the field he has the potential to be a 1400 yard back with a dozen trips to the endzone. I don’t expect anything close to that, but I do expect a healthy and motivated Wells to win the starting job in camp and run with it, literally. Though the three backs will likely spend most of the season in a rotation Wells should become the lead option, and the go to man in key situations.
One to Watch: Ryan Williams, Williams as a rookie has a lot to prove and in a short space of time. But I the kid sounds like he is ready to knuckle down and do the necessary leg work. He is likely to fill a backup role as he develops within the offense, learns the blocking schemes and will be the #1 spell back for Wells, while Hightower puts his blocking and pass catching ability to good use as the 3rd down back. He could surprise a lot of us and end up starting, but with Whisenhunt in charge I would highly doubt that, and it would be based more on the abilities or lack thereof of Wells and Hightower.