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The Running Backs Behind David Johnson

Posted Mar 30, 2017

Bruce Arians confident in backups Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny

Cardinals running back Kerwynn Williams runs for a touchdown against the Saints.

David Johnson led the NFL in touches in 2016 and coach Bruce Arians plans to ride his workhorse again next season.

It doesn’t take a TI-89 calculator to figure out carries will be in short supply for the other running backs on the Cardinals.

Still, NFL teams must always prepare for injuries by lining up the requisite depth behind their stars. With the news of Andre Ellington moving to wide receiver next season, the Cardinals currently only have two reserve running backs on the roster.

Kerwynn Williams ascended from training camp casualty to the backup role in 2016 and hopes to nail down that role again. Elijhaa Penny was on the practice squad last year after signing as an undrafted free agent and could be in line for a roster spot. There is plenty of time to add players to the position, and Arians likes his current trio.

“I’m fine right now (with the group),” he said from the owners meetings on Wednesday.

Williams finished last season with 18 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 8.7 yards per carry. He has only 98 career rushing attempts but a sparkling 5.6 yards-per-carry average.

Williams carved out a role in the Wildcat alongside Johnson near the end of last season, dicing up defenses out of the formation. While Williams doesn’t have comparable hands to Johnson, he has proven to be a nice complement as a runner.

“I think Kerwynn has proven every time he plays he gets 100 yards,” Arians said. “Everybody says he’s too small. He just gets 100 yards every time he steps out there. That Wildcat stuff – not one of those plays was blocked right. He just made somebody miss and went and got 15-to-20 yards. That’s his ability.”

Penny turned some heads with a nice performance in the final preseason game of 2016, rushing the ball 23 times for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Broncos. If he proves his worth on special teams, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Penny take over Stepfan Taylor’s role, and he would also bring some upside.

“I think Elijhaa Penny has got a lot of talent,” Arians said. “He learned what it’s like to be an NFL player now. We’ll slim him down. He’s 235. That might be a little too high for him. He’s got really light feet and great hands if we can make him a little more shifty.”

The Cardinals generally keep four running backs and they figure to add other options over the next few months. Chris Johnson is a free agent and Arians would like to see him return as a backup to Johnson. Ellington can easily transition back and forth from wideout if the Cardinals only keep three running backs.

The draft and free agency will also open up other possibilities. The Cardinals have their go-to guy in Johnson, but even stars need a supporting cast.

“We’ll just see what goes on from there,” Arians said. “We can always put Andre back. Chris will make his decision sometime soon. We’ll see.”

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