In a continued look at each position heading into camp (tight ends and wide receivers) we'll take a look at the running backs that the Cardinals will roll out this year. For an offense that bordered on explosive in 2007, the running game was...well, pedestrian. Despite having the most yards from their leading rusher (Edge 1,222) since 1983 (Otis Anderson 1,270), the Cardinals still finished at or near the bottom of the NFL in nearly every rushing category. The finished 26th or worst in yards per game, average yards per rush, runs that resulted in a first down, runs of 20+ yards, runs of 40+ yards and fumbles. So how could there be hope, since the only addition was a 5th round pick that no one heard of on draft day?
Edgerrin James: After two seasons in the desert, we pretty much know what we
have in the man that they call 'Edge.' The first running back to have for back to back 1,000 yard seasons for the Cardinal since Otis Anderson in 1983 & 1984 hasn't been the play-maker that we thought we were getting when he signed a four year 30 million dollar contract, but that's not to say he's been a disappointment either. After a 2006 season that saw him run behind a porous offensive line over 330 times, he rebounded during 2007 and increased his yards per carry average by nearly half a yard (3.4 to 3.8) and posted his fifth consecutive 1,000 yard season. Edge won't run by many defenders but he's one of the best at turning a three yard gain into a six or seven yards. He should be in line for another 1,000 yards and his yards per carry should continue to rise as the offensive line gels in their second season together.
Tim Hightower: The 'wildcard' in the depth chart at running back could be the difference between another sub-par year on the ground or a season in which the Cards running game finally takes some pressure off of the passing game. He was a fifth round pick but has opened some eyes already and could win the #2 job with a solid camp and preseason. Hightower's been compared to Marion Barber and Steven Jackson but overall his game seems to resemble Edge as well. He lacks 'game-changing' speed but is excellent between the tackles, has soft hands out of the backfield and plays faster than his forty times would indicate. The best case scenario for the Cardinals would be for Hightower to take over short yardage and goal line carries to save some wear and tear on Edge who's averaged over 330 carries for the past five seasons.
Marcel Shipp: The veteran will turn 30 next month and he's clearly not the player that he was several years ago. He hasn't averaged over three yards per carry since 2003 and has had exactly 41 yards rushing each of the past two seasons. Shipp has been decent is short yardage situations and served as the goal line back in 2006 totaling 4 touchdowns on just 17 carries. He's a great locker room guy but at some point his salary ($1.75 million this year, $1.85 million next year) and complete lack of production will result in him being cut. If Hightower proves to be capable around the goal line, Shipp's days in the desert could be numbered.
J.J. Arrington: The only back on the roster who wouldn't fit the 'power back' mold hasn't done much to stand out since being the Cardinals second round pick in 2005. Arrington started a handful of games his rookie season but proved that he wasn't a starter and has since bounced around from kickoff returner to third down back. His straight line speed is great but he has problems making people miss and nearly always goes down at first contact (always a bad combination). All that being said, he still has some value as a kick returner and he's only 25 years old so a case could be made that he could still develop into something. He did set career highs in receptions and receiving yards in 2007, but he'll have to do more than that since Edge and Hightower are both capable receivers out of the backfield.
Steve Baylark: The former University of Massechusetts' back is yet another Cardinal with size (6'0 225) who excels between the tackles but lacks a second gear. He spent the 2007 season on the practice squad after being just the third player in Division I-AA history to rush for 1,000 yards in four consecutive seasons (1,950 his senior season). He'll turn 25 later this month and seems destined for another season on the practice squad unless injuries strike a couple of other backs. He may or may not be ready to play at an NFL level, but with three 'big-bodied' backs ahead of him on the depth chart, he'll have a hard time making an impact this season.
Chris Vincent: Vincent was signed to one year deal in April after being undrafted in the 2007 draft and being cut by the Lions before camp even started. There's not much information out there on him but he was injured his senior season at Oregon and finished with just ten carries for 41 yards. He was actually a linebacker and special teams ace his junior year. The 6'1 224 pound back is a very long shot to make the team and being that he'll turn 27 later this year, he'd probably have to have a great camp to even make it to the practice squad.
The Cardinals backfield won't be confused with the Jaguars, Vikings or Steelers anytime soon but this could end up being the most productive season in quite some time. The running game is obviously a by-product of the offensive line and the line should be ready to hold it's own for the first time in a while. If they can manage to open some decent sized holes for Edge and Hightower, they should be able to punish opposing defenses and keep some pressure off of Matt Leinart and the passing game. Anyone else see some hope in this group or are the Cardinals destined for another sub-par season running the ball? Is Hightower the front-runner for the #2 job or do you still have faith in Shipp and Arrington? If the running game finish around the middle of the pack, is the offense basically unstoppable?