No doubt in my mind.
This should not be a battle—period.
When I was informed that Tim Hightower is reps with the first team in training OTAs, I figured I was wrong in my thinking.
As much as I trust Coach Whisenhunt, and the new core of leadership in Arizona, in this situation, I must question their decision making.
Tim Hightower over a very good up-and-coming back in Wells?
Maybe they're just trying to save Wells and not over-work him.
In that case it makes sense.
If there is any other reason for this, it would seem to be insanity.
So apparently there is a battle for the starting running back job. Let's examine the participants.
1. The Starter (Apparently): Tim Hightower
Logistics: 6'0", 222 lbs.
Strengths: Pass Blocking, Pass Catching.
Weaknesses: Lack of speed, Lack of Vision.
I expect a situation similar to last year's, where Hightower was the starter in name only.
Let's not completely discount Hightower, who upped his average last year to 4.2 YPC from 2.8 his rookie season.
Plus, he may be the best pass-catching back in the entire NFC, alongside backs like Frank Gore, Steven Jackson, and Chester Taylor, just to name a few.
Hightower plays a very valuable role in the Cardinals offense and should assist whoever plays quarterback for the Birds.
In fact, I compare him favorably to Leon Washington a couple of seasons ago, minus the kickoff returns.
But the starter's role?
That should be temporary.
2. The Backup (Not really): Beanie Wells
Logistics: 6'1", 228 lbs.
Strengths: Strength, Surprising Speed.
Weaknesses: Prone to Injury.
I admit, and this may sound biased, that if I had to build a perfect running back, it would either look like Adrian Peterson—or Beanie Wells.
Wells isn't much bigger than Hightower, he just looks like it.
But boy, does he pack a nice punch.
Wells finally turned it on after getting more chances late last season, getting 298 yards in November and 285 in December while scoring three TDs in both months.
Not to mention he averaged 5.1 yards a pop in November and 4.6 in December.
His receiving skills aren't bad either.
It looks like Wells is the running back of the future for the Cards. It just may take him one more season to become the full-time starter.
3. The Third Down/Specialist Back: LaRod Stephens-Howling
Logistics: 5'7", 180 lbs.
Strengths: Pass Catching, Returning Kickoffs.
Weaknesses: Lack of size, experience.
I'm really going to be interested in watching Stephens-Howling this season.
Should he progress as I hope he does, the Cardinals will have some seriously scary depth at running back.
If Hightower can be Leon Washington, then LaRod can be Darren Sproles.
Don't attribute that comparison to me, but rather to the coaching staff, who said that LSH reminded them of the diminutive Sproles.
The similarities are there, as LSH is a solid kickoff returner and can catch the ball well out of the backfield, having 10 catches for 83 yards in very few snaps last year.
If Stephens-Howling can learn the art of pass blocking, he could prove to be a very good third down back, along with a great change-of-pace back.