The Cardinals have five running backs. That’s not a complete surprise, given who the backs are and the fact the team doesn’t carry a fullback. But in a system where the offense calls for just one back on the field the vast majority of the time, the math doesn’t exactly work out. What that means for the roster Sunday remains a bit of mystery.
Asked about his plans for his running backs, coach Bruce Arians said “We have plenty. We have plenty.” And that was as far as he went.
“I think it’s based on how Rashard (Mendenhall) plays, how he’s going and when he gets tired,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “We feel good about all our backs, so whoever is in there, he’s our starter.”
Mendenhall is the clear No. 1 guy. He looked good against the starting defenses he played against in the preseason, and he’s the well-rounded veteran Arians trusts. Now, he’s wearing a brace on his knee and he’s been listed as limited thus far this week, so there is always the hesitation on the injury front. Arians said Mendenhall was healthy coming into the week, so the limited part of practice may just be precautionary. Either way, how does it play out behind him?
Rookie Stepfan Taylor seems to be the one who will grind it out in needed short-yardage — there was a play in the preseason when he lined up in the backfield with Mendenhall essentially as a fullback in an offset I, and made a fourth down-and-short carry for a first. The wild card in all this is Ryan Williams. He’s behind the other backs on the special teams depth chart — Taylor, Alfonso Smith and rookie Andre Ellington all perform in the transition game — and while he is listed as second behind Mendenhall on the depth chart, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him inactive either.
Ellington, who showed up on the injury list Thursday limited with a hamstring, also might be a candidate to sit. Smith, because he can be a key on special teams, would figure to be active. He’s probably best in pass protection too, aside from Mendenhall. But again, this is the first game and it’s hard to get a true sense of how Arians will construct his roster. It was a slight surprise Arians kept five backs on the 53-man roster in the first place. Perhaps having all five playing Sunday isn’t that much of a leap, although if Mendenhall is OK, it’s hard to believe the need for four others.
UPDATE: Arians said after practice that while the rotation behind Mendenhall is situational, Alfonso Smith will be the No. 2 guy in many instances. If that’s the case, Williams indeed could be inactive Sunday.
Tags: Alfonso Smith, Andre Ellington, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams, Stepfan Taylor
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