GLENDALE AZ - SEPTEMBER 02: Runningback Alfonso Smith #46 of the Arizona Cardinals scores a 3 yard rushing touchdown past Robert Henson #51 of the Washington Redskins during the second quarter of the preseason NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 2 2010 in Glendale Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It's a numbers game. The Arizona Cardinals have seven running backs on the roster coming into their first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints. Of those seven, three are guaranteed roster spots, but of those three there are two recovering from serious knee surgeries.
The two marquee running backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, are still recovering from injuries and hope to be ready for the season opener, but in the first game it will be the lesser known backs who will shoulder the load while they recover. The most known, LaRod Stephens-Howling, has proven his ability to be productive, but he is a smaller speedy back used for situational mismatches. He is not the grinding back that is needed to control the clock or make defenses pay.
The Cardinals will turn to Alfonso Smith, William Powell, and newcomer Thomas Clayton to shoulder the load for the Hall of Fame game. The team will use expanded playing time to evaluate the backs and see if they can get lucky and find a fourth back for the rotation who can fill in if either star back is slow to return or happens to become injured again.
The Cardinals Front Office has to be considering finding other backs as they are cut from camps throughout the preseason in the hopes to find a diamond in the rough, or just a numbers casualty who has skill but is cut, similar to what other teams are doing due to the depth in the Cardinals corner back corps. If the Cardinals can not find a young back with skill cut from another team's camp they should consider some of the veteran running backs that are still available.
Two very serviceable backs are available as a stop gap; Ryan Grant and Cedric Benson. Grant is the preferable of the two due to his pass blocking skills protecting Rodgers, lack of off the field issues and his good attitude and physical style. But Benson played well last season, ask Andy Dalton about his pass blocking skills and he's a punishing back that would be great for the rotation in the 2012 season. It's well known that he comes with baggage, but he also comes with three consecutive seasons of 1000+ rushing yards. Rather than signing a player like Chester Taylor who only gained 77 yards and 1 TD, Grant or Benson could be brought in for one year deals and will both produce.
If the team wants to establish a power running game, they need a power runner and if either Wells or Williams have any stumbles coming back to the field the running game will be lacking until they are both 100%. Rather than wait and wonder the Cardinals should sign insurance now and have a loaded backfield. The 49ers have shown what depth at the RB position can do for a QB that needs to build confidence.
So the only numbers that I would be interested in right now, is how many it's going to take to get a healthy backfield threat.