Rookie nose tackle Dan Williams (92) takes a break during Tuesday's afternoon practice.
FLAGSTAFF – Dan Williams smiled.
The Cardinals' rookie nose tackle smiles often, but in this case, it was about a question considering what was harder for him right now – the altitude of training camp or learning the NFL game.
"The altitude," Williams said without hesitation. "The air is thin and I am a big guy. I breathe hard already. Sometimes I am sucking wind."
The team's No. 1 pick showed up to camp at the right weight. His conditioning is a work in progress. But Williams thinks it won't be a problem when the Cards get off the mountain and coach Ken Whisenhunt only sees a player with an impressive work ethic.
"He is a little bit of a victim of being a first-round pick trying to impress," Whisenhunt said. "Some of the things he is doing, he is trying to do more than he needs to do. But it stands out that he is talented and he is going to be good at that position."
Williams caught Whisenhunt's eye at the night practice last week, when Williams hurt his ankle but got it taped up and returned to work. "That showed his toughness," Whisenhunt said. Then came a series of sprints Monday afternoon.
"Even though the gassers were hard for him, he pushed through and finished," Whisenhunt said. "When you said, 'Come on Dan, finish strong!' he pushed himself the last 20 yards to finish under his time. We almost had to give him oxygen afterward, but, I like that. I like the never-give-up type of attitude he has."
Williams said he sees himself making improvement when he watches himself on video at practice. He has no doubt he will have the stamina needed for the NFL. He played between 50 and 75 plays a game at Tennessee last season, he said, so he knows he is capable.
"I probably won't be asked to do as much here," Williams acknowledged. "I have some good guys in front of me with Gabe (Watson) and B-Rob (Bryan Robinson). And they aren't giving up their job. No telling, but I will be able to do whatever the coaches ask of me."
Running back Beanie Wells was limited in practice Tuesday afternoon after hurting his ribs Monday. Whisenhunt said it was too early to determine if it will affect Wells' status for Saturday's preseason opener against Houston.
"Obviously Beanie wants to play," Whisenhunt said. "We will see. I am sure he will be sore and it'll be tough, but hopefully he will recover as the week goes and he will be ready."
Wells said he wants to play against the Texans.
"It was pretty much a scare," Wells said. "It feels a lot better today. ... I was getting ready to finish and he hit me, and I wasn't ready for it."
Wells is roommates with safety Hamza Abdullah, who made the hit that put Wells down.
On the subject of nose tackles, Whisenhunt said it will be difficult to find playing time for all three, before noting Watson "is one of the biggest surprises of the first week."
If Watson does step forward, it will be a boon to a defense waiting for both he and Alan Branch to make such a move the past two years. Watson has one major believer in defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who tweeted Tuesday that Watson "will have a great year! He's training with me and I'm feeding him hot sauce and gun powder."
ON THE SIDELINE
Cornerback Greg Toler left practice with an ankle sprain Tuesday afternoon, while wide receiver Early Doucet (abdominal strain) did some limited work. Sitting out were tight ends Ben Patrick (knee) and Dominique Byrd (hamstring), defensive tackle Keilen Dykes (tricep) and PUP linebackers O'Brien Schofield (knee) and Gerald Hayes (back).