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2013 Arizona Cardinals training camp: Previewing the running backs

Out penultimate positional preview is the stable of running backs.


The running backs and the quarterbacks are left in our training camp position previews. Today we look at the running backs, a group that has some new faces.

Here is who we have heading into camp:

Andre Ellington, 2013 sixth round draft pick

Rashard Mendenhall, 2013 free agent signee, one-year contract

William Powell, third year with the team, was undrafted rookie in 2011

Alfonso Smith, 2010 undrafted rookie

Stepfan Taylor, 2013 fifth round draft pick

Ryan Williams, 2011 second round draft pick

Injury questions at the top...again

The running back position has been riddled with injuries the past couple of years. Beanie Wells, whom the team released in the offseason, never could stay completely healthy. Ryan Williams has played only five games in two seasons. Now it is Mendenhall, who has had a torn ACL and then last year dealt with an Achilles injury related to the recovery of his ACL. Williams should also be healthy, but once again the top two guys at the position come into the season with questions of durabilty. Even rookie Ellington was drafted having tweaked a hamstring.

In offseason workouts, OTAs and mini-camp, Mendenhall did look good. But it was just in shorts.

No fullback

Unlike under Ken Whisenhunt, head coach Bruce Arians has no use for a fullback. He would rather use a tight end in the backfield so that there is more flexibility with what you can do, and it does not telegraph as much to the defense what the play will be. So gone is Anthony Sherman, who was traded to the Chiefs for cornerback Javier Arenas.

Arians likes to ride one guy

Arians is big on having a running back that can play all three downs. His running backs must be able to run and block. Catching is an afterthought, as he believes that is why you have wide receivers. Seth Cox noted that, under Arians, Mendenhall got 77 percent of the carries in 2010. Mendenhall is expected to be the guy. Could another step up?

Two RB draft picks

The Cardinals clearly were not sold on the personnel they had at the position, or they would not have used two of their picks on backs. Stepfan Taylor brings durability, reliability and pass blocking to the table. Andre Ellington brings a big play threat, in addition to great discipline at sticking to his assignment.

Powell has long odds

Last year's preseason darling, William Powell, faces long odds to make the team. Carrying four running backs is pretty much the standard. Mendenhall, Williams and the rookies Taylor and Ellington make up that group. How can he make the team? Well, with no fullback, it does allow the team to carry an extra player at another position.

What Powell can do to make the team is win the kick return job. He is the incumbent at the position right now. Will that be enough this year? He will be facing Ellington, Javier Arenas, Bryan McCann and Ryan Swope (is he ever makes it to the field) for that job.

Smith, the other guy on the outside, was unable to make the team out of camp, but was added after injuries struck. He is a solid special teams player but has yet to show much running the ball.

The questions for camp

Will Mendenhall return to his 2009-2010 form? Can Williams stay healthy and show what people were so excited about before his injuries? Can one of the rookies crack the rotation? Can Powell make the team this year?

Anything we missed?

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