Doing the math on the running backs

Posted by Darren Urban on September 6, 2013 – 10:27 am

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.


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6 Responses to “Doing the math on the running backs”

  1. By LadyBird04 on Sep 6, 2013 | Reply

    All of the rb’s are at the least competant, including our two rookies. BIG improvement on the perennially hobbled Beanie and poor LaRod who was forced to run up the middle behind the terrible o-line last year. Certainly didn’t play to LaRod’s strengths.

    Hope they can remain at least semi-healthy and between Mendenhall and Williams I hope we get a full year of excellent yardage and then our other three can also put some yards on the board. All we need is a magic wand to wave to keep them healthy!

  2. By mal on Sep 6, 2013 | Reply

    I think BA kept 5 backs cuz 2 of them are coming off injuries and couldnt seem to make it thru one full-contact practice without getting re-injured.

    I think he knows that after just one regular season game, he might have only the typical number of 3 backs left, anyway.

  3. By rod on Sep 6, 2013 | Reply

    Hope I’m wrong but I have this feeling that Mendenhall won’t last more than 1 or 2 quarters.

  4. By hminus on Sep 6, 2013 | Reply

    Mendenhall,(unless he gets bit by injury,)Stepfan Taylor,(Durable short yardage back,)Smith,(decent back who is good on ST & Passing downs,)Ellington,(if he’s not still lame,)& then RW,(was surprised he wasn’t traded.)

  5. By clssylssy on Sep 7, 2013 | Reply

    Glad to see Coach BA paying attention to the running game, which, I think will be our salvation. I know Mendenhall is suppose to be good and comes with a strong resume but, Ryan Williams, when healthy is as good. I’ll be surprised if Mendenhall is still standing by the bye, hopefully this will be Williams year to shine. Stephan Taylor is a pit bull and, I think, will emerge as our number 1 with Ellington proving himself a work horse. I was disappointed that we lost Larod, he had the speed and I think could have contributed more to this running corp more than others. The ground game hasn’t been a Cardinal strength in years and is a staple of contender teams. I’ve loved what Sean Payton has done with the rotating backs in New Orleans, having fresh legs has given Drew an extra weapon when playing venues like Qwest Field in Seattle; we don’t have a Darren Sproles but at one point could have picked up Chris Ivory. I’m REALLY glad the Rams still don’t have Steven Jackson (now he was a REAL RB and a worry for another week) but, nonetheless, they are a team who people underestimate and I think will make a good opening game. Good to have football back. Go Cards!

  6. By Bay Area Bad Boy on Sep 7, 2013 | Reply

    BA isn’t dumb. He knows he needs all 5 backs at this time. Two rookies (unproven) Two Vet (both hobbled by injuries- unproven). And then there is Alfonso Smith. The only proven vet. But he is unproven to BA. We won’t have 5 by the end of the season, but for now, 5 are needed. I don’t wish injury on anyone but its a part of football. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. I’m wishing the best to all 5.

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