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With both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams out, the Arizona Cardinals will be relying on LaRod Stephens-Howling to carry the ball more than he may be accustomed to. How will he handle his new role?
LaRod Stephens-Howling has never been known as an every down running back, particularly due to his size. The 5'7" diminutive runner may get a chance to see more snaps now, as Beanie Wells is on IR with the designated to return tag and Ryan Williams is out for the season with a rare shoulder injury.
And it sounds like he is embracing the new role, too. The former seventh-round pick cried the day he was drafted, never imagining that he would one day be an NFL running back. Now, he will be a premiere, top of the depth chart one. He told Jess and some of the other reporters on Wednesday that, "that's what you dream about. That's what I want."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt noted that he has, "a lot of confidence in LaRod," in terms of him getting more carries than the situational back he is used to being.
LSH excels in the open field, providing a sort of 'scat-back' running style to the team. He is very versatile in that he can stretch the ball outside the tackles, catch it out of the backfield, run screens and even line up in the slot if you asked him to. As for being a runner between the tackles, he hasn't had much success. Most of his runs of that nature usually go for minimal yardage.
William Powell and Alfonso Smith, both undrafted players that battled for a final roster spot in the preseason, will be handling quite a bit of the load as well. If there are short yardage situations, one would expect their names to be called upon to get the necessary gain.
So how many snaps should we expect to see from Stephens-Howling? He took 22 against the Eagles, the last game he played in. Before that, he took a total of 34 on the season. With him being the top back now, that number is likely to rise quite a bit. I think he performs quite well in the 20-25 range, but he will be called upon more often now. Wearing him out coming off of a hip/groin injury would be unwise, but does the team really have a choice? Let Smith and Powell carry the ball as much as they can, but it is clear who the best runner on the team currently is.
For reference, look back to his game against the Seahawks in week 17 last season. He was the top back in that game and took 43 snaps on offense, rushing the ball 21 times for 93 yards. He has shown he can step up in big situations, which is why Coach Whisenhunt has confidence in him.
Personally, I am very excited to see what Stephens-Howling will do in his inflated stint. He can still be used on the screen passes and what not, but I think in order to keep him effective, running him to the outside and away from the 300 pound defensive tackles will be key.