For the Arizona Cardinals, priorities number one and number two should be to find their quarterback and improve the offensive line. However, since the whole offense was pretty bad last season, the running back position is also a position of concern. Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams have both been injury riddled. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a free agent. What are left are inexperienced guys like William Powell, Alfonso Smith, Fozzy Whitaker and Javarris James (who will not be able to play the first four games of the season).
Head coach Bruce Arians spoke to Darren Urban about the running back position and the expectations he has for those that play there, and his comments perhaps reveal the direction in terms of current and past personnel.
"They are back there because they are runners and pass protectors," Arians said via the team's official web site. "Will we throw to the backs? Yeah. But the receivers are the ones paid to catch it. (Running backs) are helping but it's doubtful our running back leads the team in receiving."
Running and blocking matter, receiving doesn't. Arians has also already commented on the blocking skills of the backs, saying the group was inadequate in pass protection.
What does this perhaps signal? Well, Beanie Wells has long had the reputation for not being a good blocker. He has improved, but he also struggled running the ball. However, we have seen him be effective. What remains to be seen is if he can be effective behind an offensive line that runs more zone blocking schemes.
Ryan Williams gets a pass. He is not up to snuff in blocking, but since he went to Virginia Tech, he has a place in Arians' heart.
The guy that will likely not return? The Hyphen. LaRod Stephens-Howling is a free agent and his strength has been making plays out of the backfield, particularly in the passing game. His size makes picking up some blitzers hard (some may recall when Patrick Willis completely destroyed him...although there aren't many backs that could stop Willis). If he is used like a traditional back, his strengths are minimized. I believe he could flourish running the ball with even an average offensive line because he is elusive, but you cannot deny that his strength is his flexibility in running and receiving.
Does that mean he is gone? Money of course will play an issue, but he just might not fit as well as other backs in the offense Arians will want to run.
While it may be goodbye to the little guy, just how much more fun will it be to watch the Cardinals if their backs manage to do the two important things well -- run and block. Seeing them improve in those areas would easily offset any disappointment in the loss of the Hyphen, should it come to that.
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