Running backs Tim Hightower (left, both top and bottom) and Beanie Wells are close friends but are happy with their current situations after Hightower was traded.
Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower took playing time away from each other when both were with the Cardinals, a situation that was inevitable and frustrating for both running backs.
When Hightower was traded to the Washington Redskins early in training camp, both got the chance to get what they wanted – a clear opportunity at being the undisputed No. 1 back.
"It gave us room to grow as players," Wells said. "We had our time to grow together, and now it's time to split up and do our own things."
But in many ways, Wells and Hightower will always be linked, because of the time they spent together and the friendship they forged. They'll see each other Sunday when the Cardinals travel to Washington to play the Redskins, in a meeting that somehow is fitting to happen so soon after Hightower's departure.
"There was a lot of hype around (Beanie) coming in to replace me, us splitting roles, being at each other's throats and kind of divided," Hightower said. "It actually ended up being a close relationship, one of the closest relationships I've had to this day.
"I learned a lot from Beanie and I feel he learned a lot from me. We challenged each other, we pushed each other. I think he made me a better player. Hopefully he can say the same about me."
One game certainly gave both players they rarely had playing together Hightower got 25 of Washington's 26 rushing attempts, after he never had more than 22 in a game with the Cards (his second-highest total was 18). Wells had 18 attempts, a total he had reached just once in his first two seasons (20, last year against Tampa Bay).
Wells had better production, gaining 90 yards, while Hightower had just 72. While he had a touchdown, Hightower averaged less than three yards a carry. Wells, meanwhile, thinks he should have done much better.
"I left a lot out there on the field," Wells said. "I left two more touchdowns out there, a few big runs at the end of the game. But it is encouraging to know how much better the running game can be.
"That is what I am used to," Wells added. "In college, (I'd be) getting the ball, getting a feel for the game, getting a rhythm. Things are looking bright."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said at the time of the Hightower trade it was best for both teams, and Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said they had studied players in the offseason "and look at who will fit your system."
It was easier to see Hightower as a fit in Washington after the Cardinals' draft, which featured running back Ryan Williams taken in the second round. Williams was hurt in the preseason and is out for the year with a ruptured patella tendon, but in early August, the Cards simply had three healthy running backs and not enough reps to share.
Hightower insists he didn't know for sure something would happen after the Cards took Williams, but "the human in me felt like people make decisions for a reason."
"I didn't know what it meant," Hightower added. "I know this league was about competition, and for all I knew, it could have been just to make me better. But I know they weren't pleased with some things last year and that's the nature of the business."
Hightower had his car packed and ready to drive up to training camp in Flagstaff when Whisenhunt called him to tell him about the trade. Hightower said he was "thankful" the Cards pulled the trigger on such an early deal, especially before he had reported to camp.
"I'm happy to see he is having success in Washington," Whisenhunt said. "If I were him, I'd look forward to playing our defense the way we played last week as well."
Wells is looking forward to seeing how Hightower's mom is doing – a side benefit to the trade was Hightower's ability to play close to his Virginia home – and the two talk "every other day," Wells said.
Hightower's work ethic made an impact on Wells. That, Wells said, was the greatest lesson he took from his former teammate. But Beanie just nodded his head at the idea both are helped by being on different teams.
"No doubt about it," Wells said. "You understand the business, you understand how it goes."
Hightower doesn't disagree.
"Beanie was one of the first people who called me (after the trade) and he knows I'll be the first one calling him after games," Hightower said. "I'm probably his number one supporter. Every time – except this week."