In Wells and Williams, Cards have potentially dynamic backfield tandem -- if they can stay healthy.
By CRAIG MORGANFS Arizona
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- In the Cardinals' dream 2012 scenario, running backs Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams will form such a powerful and explosive 1-2 punch to the Cardinals offense that the quarterback of choice will have little more to do than manage the game.
"It would be huge," said Kevin Kolb, one of two possible quarterback choices. "We have a very talented backfield and it would be nice to get them back out there."
Therein lays the concern. The unresolved QB battle has fueled consternation within and outside the organization due to a belief that the Cards have multiple pieces in place elsewhere on offense. But that perception is at least problematic when you consider that:
• First-round pick Michael Floyd and Williams haven't played an NFL regular season down.
• Wells and Williams are both coming off major knee surgery, and Wells' procedure was his second knee surgery in three seasons.
• Tight end Todd Heap has been limited by injuries.
• Tight end Rob Housler hasn't yet proven himself a capable blocker -- or even a capable pass catcher.
• Young wide receivers Andre Roberts and Early Doucet have been inconsistent.
• The offensive line has a host of woes, not the least of which is two new starters on the right side.
"We look good on paper, but we haven't been together on the field and done it in a game yet," Wells said. "Once we get to that point maybe we can talk about it then."
After missing the club's first two preseason games, Williams is expected to play this week against the Raiders at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Wells is a possibility, but is likely a week behind Williams after coming off the PUP (physically unable to perform) list early this week.
Whisenhunt admits there are always concerns when players return from injuries, but Williams has shown some explosive moves and lethal cutbacks early in camp, and Wells is beginning to exhibit some of the characteristics that helped him rush for 1,047 yards and 10 TDs last season.
"(Monday) he still looked like he was getting his legs back under him but you could see the power and the speed when he gets going," Whisenhunt said. "We've seen some things with Ryan as well -- good combination of power and speed. Hopefully, we'll see a lot more of that in the next couple of weeks in preparation for the season opener."
Williams has stressed repeatedly that he wanted to feel comfortable before he took part in a game, saying that the coaches had left part of that decision up to him. He also noted it's been less than a year (by about a week) since he suffered the injury.
"I feel good, and I've been able to do some things – a lot of things," he said. "But I'm not 100 percent. I'm trying to get back there. I've been told not to expect that before the second or third week of the season, though."
Wells is in a similar scenario. He was limited in practice (he skipped the team portions) and remains realistic about Friday's game and beyond.
"I want to push it just to get a feel for it in a game, but practice is something I need to get a little more comfortable with first," he said. "Just getting back to 100 percent, that is it. That's all I'm focusing on right now. That's what I missed the past two seasons."
When asked how much better he could have been without injuries, Wells smiled.
"Oh man, I definitely think I could have been in the upper echelon of backs in the league, but I know it's coming," he said. "I don't even think about last year, because I don't even think that was a good season. I left too many yards out there on the football field."
Health issues. Durability. Compatibility. Blocking and Williams' inexperience.
It's fun to talk about the direction this backfield could be heading, but right now, questions are the prevailing wind.
"We've still got a lot of work to do," Williams said.