For the first time in what feels like forever many of the spots on the Arizona Cardinals offense seems to be set.
The quarterback carousel is no longer an issue, the wide receiver position looks as strong as its been since Anquan Boldin was on the team and the offensive line has as much depth as it’s had in a long time.
The one position that is not set is at running back. The Cardinals were the worst rushing team in the league in 2012 and all three of the teams leading rushers from a season ago, Beanie Wells, LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell, are all gone.
In the offseason, the team revamped their depth by adding Rashard Mendenhall, bringing in Alfonso Smith who has been on and off the team over the last few years and didn’t carry the ball once in 11 games he suited up with the team, and drafting Stepfan Taylor out of Stanford and Andre Ellington out of Clemson.
The lone running back from last season’s roster is Ryan Williams. In his first two seasons the former second-round pick from Virginia Tech has appeared in five games. Unless you have been out to see Williams in person when attending Cards Camp in the past you really have no idea what he is capable of as a player. You just know the hype of what he was able to accomplish in college or know what you hear which is rave reviews when he can actually stay on the field.
But therein lies the problem. He can’t stay on the field. He has been sidelined yet again during Cards Camp 2013 at a time where he is running out of chances to prove he can be a reliable back in the NFL. No one debates his ability or his desire, but his ability to stay healthy. The life of a running back in this league is as short as any other position and his time is starting to run out.
“It’s hurting him extremely,” head coach Bruce Arians explained in a press conference this week. “Not to be on the field competing for the job especially because the other guys are doing so well.”
That right there is the reason Williams could be the odd man out. If the team was thin at running back, maybe they could afford to be more patient with him. But in his absence, the players who were behind him on the depth chart going into camp are impressing the Cardinals new coach.
“They are separating themselves from the rest of the pack in that they are playing extremely good, especially in pass protection” Arians said of the rookies Taylor and Ellington. “I am extremely excited with the depth that these two have added.”
Not to mention the player that might have been the odd one out and had the most to prove at the start of camp, Alfonso Smith, has been one of the stars of camp so far and is a huge surprise in the eyes of Arians.
“Alfonso is having a great camp,” Arians mentioned. “I think is making a really big step in making our football team.”
Will the Cardinals in fact keep five players who play the same position? Taylor, Smith and Ellington are guys the team can keep around for special teams purposes but do you really think they will keep Williams around to play special teams? Rashard Mendenhall has history with Arians so even though he is dealing with knee tendentious and has been on and off the field during camp as well, you know he isn’t going anywhere.
Arians said this week that he plans to keep four to five running backs but it is rare to see a team keep five, especially if none of them can line up at fullback as well. A lot can happen between now and the start of the season. If Ryan Williams can get back onto the field fast and stay out there, plus turn some heads in the process, this column will become irrelevant.
But if he cannot, he might be the odd one out.