The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 22, 2012

Wells return to Cardinals backfield could mean less carries for Stephens-Howling


Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. — Beanie Wells will be back in the Arizona Cardinals backfield on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams.

The Rams remember him all too well. The last time Wells faced them, almost exactly a year ago, he rushed for a franchise-record 228 yards in a 23-20 Arizona victory in St. Louis.

With Wells coming back from an injury and the Rams defense greatly improved, no one is expecting anything close to that this time around. But the presence of a healthy Wells is a welcome addition to a team looking to end a six-game losing streak with a rookie quarterback, Ryan Lindley, making his first NFL start.

“I feel great,” Wells said. “I’m excited to finally be able to say ‘I feel great.’ I feel good enough to go out there and do my job at a high level.”’

What was described as a “severe turf toe” injury sustained by Wells in Arizona’s victory over Philadelphia in week three was the official reason he was placed on the NFL’s new inured/designated for return list, but the true benefit was to his right knee, which had not fully recovered after arthroscopic surgery following last season.

“To me it was all for the knee,” he said. “My toe, I didn’t think it was a big issue, but it is what it is. I feel like it was a blessing in disguise that it did happen because it gave me enough time to get my knee back to where it needed to be.”

Under the new NFL rule, Wells had to be out eight weeks, which translated to seven games because of Arizona’s bye week. Shortly after Wells’ injury, his replacement Ryan Williams went down with a season-ending ankle injury. That left the running game to LaRod Stephens-Howling, a 5-foot-7 player more accustomed to a situational role.

Arizona’s running game virtually disappeared on most Sundays, although Stephens-Howling got the ground game going in last Sunday’s 23-19 loss at Atlanta, when he rushed for a career-best 127 yards.

Under the previous rules, the Cardinals either would have had to place Wells on season-ending injury reserve or keep him on the roster even though they knew he wouldn’t be playing for quite some time.

“There was a point probably three weeks ago where we had eight or nine guys that were hurt  and we couldn’t even put 46 out there,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said after the team’s Thanksgiving day practice. “If Beanie had been on your roster and you couldn’t put him out there, that would have been a real hindrance. Even though it’s only one spot, it can help. ... I think it’s a great rule change and it really worked well for us.”

Wells, drafted by Arizona late in the first round (31st overall) after the Cardinals’ 2008 Super Bowl season, is coming off his best season, rushing for 1,047 yards and 10 touchdowns in 14 games despite being bothered by the sore knee most of the year. He was unable to participate in summer workouts and didn’t begin playing until late in the preseason. When the season began, it was obvious that the 6-foot-3, 229-pound back was not his usual power-running self. When he was hurt, he had gained just 76 yards in 29 attempts, an average of 2.6 yards per carry.

He said he didn’t know how long the knee might have kept slowing him down had he not had the two months to recover.

“I don’t think it would have been a whole year like that,” Wells said. “I just needed time to kind of focus on that, and that’s what I could do.”

Watching Arizona’s offense, now ranked 31st out of 32 NFL teams – 30th on the ground , struggle so much as a 4-0 start evaporated into a skid that’s reached six games and counting was a helpless feeling, he said.

“It’s really difficult,” Wells said. “Anytime, be it win or lose, if you’re not a part of something you feel bad. I’m no different. I feel like I could have been out there and could have helped a little bit more, be it short yardage or goal line whatever the case may be, I feel like I could give it that extra oomph.”

No one expects Wells to come in and carry the ball play after play.

“I think you’ve got to get a feel for it,” Whisenhunt said. “I certainly don’t think he’s going to get an overload of work because you don’t want to do that, but you’ve got to see how he feels and the rhythm. And I know his game conditioning probably won’t be what it needs to be, but luckily we have some other guys that have been playing. LaRod can get in there and do a nice job, but we’ve got to spread it out.”

Although he missed only five games in his first three seasons, and just two when he was fighting the knee problem a year ago, Wells is aware that his latest issues will add to his reputation of being injury prone, a perception that came with him from Ohio State. The logic is that his power running style makes him susceptible to being hurt.

He noted that he has had a hamstring, toe and knee injury. That’s it.

As for fans’ perception?

“People are going to make their assumptions and opinions on anything,” he said.