Tim Hightower (left) will remain the Cardinals' starter at running back, although Beanie Wells (right) had an impressive game Sunday.
Beanie Wells is going to get more carries. That's inevitable.
But the integration process for the rookie running back will remain gradual, coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday, and he isn't going to replace Tim Hightower as a starter anytime soon.
"I just don't think Beanie is ready yet," Whisenhunt said.
Wells got his most extensive work of the season during Sunday night's win in New York, gaining 67 yards on 14 carries and scoring his first touchdown. That success included a five-yard loss on one play in which Wells tried to make something big happen instead of plowing ahead for a shorter loss.
Whisenhunt praised Wells and acknowledged that Wells will, at some point, likely enjoy a huge game with a breakaway run or two. But Wells had another fumble – his fourth in just 49 attempts, although he's lost just one – and that gives Whisenhunt pause.
Whisenhunt did say he has seen a "dramatic difference" in how Wells is carrying the ball compared to his two-fumble day in Jacksonville a month ago.
Hightower has had fumbling issues himself. He has three, including one lost Sunday night. But Hightower long ago earned Whisenhunt's confidence, something Wells remains in the process of doing.
"(The fumble) tore Tim up," Whisenhunt said. "He obviously hears a lot about Beanie because Beanie is a first-round draft pick. He has to fight that, but Tim is a conscientious player, he does an outstanding job in protection and in our third-down packages and he will continue to play because he has played well for us."
Hightower finished with just nine yards on four carries, although he did score on a one-yard run on third down to put the Cardinals ahead for good.
Last season, Whisenhunt elevated Hightower, then a rookie, to starter over incumbent Edgerrin James around midseason. The coach said Monday the situation with Wells was not the same.
"The reason we made the change last year at running back was because we felt Tim was ready and it gave us a chance to be better," Whisenhunt said. "It's not like Tim has played bad (this year). Beanie is making strides and we know he is a good football player. I just think we are lucky we have a number of good football players at the position."
To that end, Whisenhunt pointed out the fact all three top running backs – Wells, Hightower and Jason Wright (on a screen pass) – scored touchdowns against the Giants, the first time the Cardinals have had three different backs score in a game since Emmitt Smith, Troy Hambrick and Obafemi Ayanbadejo did it against the Saints in 2004.
Wright's two touchdowns receiving this season already double his total of his first five NFL seasons.
"That speaks to our versatility," Whisenhunt said, emphasizing that no matter how Wells plays, "there is going to be some rotation."
Wells, despite his limited work, has 191 yards rushing to make him third among rookie runners behind the two backs drafted in front of him – Denver's Knowshon Moreno (381 yards) and Indianapolis' Donald Brown (212).
Wells, as usual, wore a wide smile Sunday night. This time, it was for his extended playing time. Normally a man of few words, Wells admitted he didn't know exactly what to say other than to repeatedly use the word "fun."
"It was great just to be out there contributing and, like I've said about 15 times, having fun," Wells said at one point.
The Cardinals want Beanie to continue to have fun at the opponent's expense, and his carries may eventually outgrow those for Hightower. But with the Cardinals playing well as constructed – which includes Wells off the bench and Hightower starting – there seems to be little reason to change.
"We have different packages that emphasize the strengths of the different backs," Whisenhunt said. "But when (Beanie) has the hot hand like he did (Sunday) night, that is something we are hopefully continue to see him do."
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had an MRI on his ankle injury, but Whisenhunt said he was "pretty sure" it was just a low ankle sprain, which tend to be easier to return from than the high-ankle variety. "It'll be a question of recovery time," Whisenhunt added. …
Safety Antrel Rolle came up with a sore left arch on his foot in the game, but Whisenhunt said he expected Rolle to be fine.
As for wide receiver Anquan Boldin, he came out late as his ankle sprain stiffened but Whisenhunt said Boldin had no setbacks and is expected to practice more this week than last. …
The Cardinals have won three straight road games for the first time since 1987. If the road playoff win in Carolina is included, the Cardinals have won four straight on the road for the first time since 1982, when was also the last time they started 3-0 on the road. …
The win at New York was the first on the road against an NFC East team since shocking Philadelphia with a late Jake Plummer-to-MarTay Jenkins touchdown pass with just seconds left on Oct. 7, 2001. The Cards had lost 11 straight road games against the NFC East. …
With the team arriving in the early morning hours Monday, players were given a day off. …
The Panthers, who visit University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday, still have quarterback issues. Coach John Fox said Monday he had yet to make a decision whether to keep struggling starter Jake Delhomme in the lineup.
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