Beanie Wells' position on the depth chart might not change this season, his second in the NFL, but he figures to play a more prominent role in the Cardinals' offense.
Tim Hightower likely will remain the starting running back, but Wells is expected to receive more carries just as he did over the final two months of the season.
Wells is sure of himself and comfortable, a dramatic change from a year ago, when he was drafted 31st overall out of Ohio State. Only 20 when he was drafted, Wells was living away from home for the first time in his career. He was unable to attend many offseason workouts because class was still in session at Ohio State, and that kept him from bonding with his teammates.
Wells became so homesick at the midway point of the season that coach Ken Whisenhunt allowed to spend some time at home in Akron in early November, just after the Cardinals had beaten the Bears in Chicago.
"It was bad," said coach Ken Whisenhunt, "but he came out of it."
Wells became a different player in the second half of the season. Happier personally, he is also became more comfortable with the offense. He ended up leading Arizona in rushing with 793 yards on 176 carries, a 4.5 yard average.
Hightower continued to start, mostly because of his versatility. He's a solid runner who is also a capable receiver and a devastating blocker against the blitz.
He also has been a great help to Wells, who has grown accustomed to living away from his large family in Akron. One of 11 children, Wells has a child of his own now and is engaged.
"It's great," he said. "My focus is on my family and football and nothing else. I don't have time to be one of those guys who get detoured off my goals for something that doesn't need to be on my mind."
Wells' goal is to become the best running back in Cardinals history. The list is neither long nor illustrious. Since 1998, only one back, Edgerrin James, has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in a season. He did it twice.
"It's exciting when you have a young man who is as nice a young man as he is, who works hard, who wants to be good start to have a little bit of success," Whisenhunt said. "That is something we're pleasantly ready to see him continue."
Wells isn't likely to carry a heavy load for the Cardinals, however. Whisenhunt is a big believer in the two-back system, and he's an unabashed fan of Hightower, one of the hardest working players on the team.
Wells still has a lot to learn, too. While he's improved as a blocker, he still struggles in blitz pickups on occasion. And his upright running style makes him more susceptible to injuries.
But he gives the team a big-play threat it's been missing at running for a long time. Wells looks trim and powerful at about 235 pounds and should be able to break tackles past the line of scrimmage, something James was not able to do as a Cardinal.
If Wells can establish himself as a consistent threat, it should help the Cardinals develop a potent play-action passing attack.
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