Running back Ryan Williams powers through a drill at practice.
FLAGSTAFF – Ryan Williams slid inside, planted hard on his left foot and bounced inside even further.
Later, coach Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged he couldn't help but smile.
The Cardinals need their running backs, especially Williams and fellow rehabber Beanie Wells. Both aren't ready yet. Both will be treated conservatively in the preseason, and Wells, on the physically unable to perform list, still has to return to practice.
If there is anything certain that can be taken from the Cards, from Whisenhunt and from Williams and Wells it's that there is confidence both will be ready when the regular season begins. The actions say it -- save for Javarris James, the team didn't bring in a veteran running back – and so too does Whisenhunt and the players.
"We'll be ready when that day comes," Wells said. "When we strap it on and it counts, we'll be ready to go."
Whisenhunt said his belief in head athletic trainer Tom Reed and the team doctors means that "when they feel strongly about those situations it makes me feel a lot more comfortable about it," and all indications from Reed have been positive.
"I think it's also assessing the players involved and how hard they work and what it means with them," Whisenhunt said. "With what Beanie did last year, working through the knee and playing, gives me confidence when he says he's ready to play, he's going to be, and that's part of it too."
Wells, who reiterated his knee surgery was a "scope" back in January, wasn't putting a timeframe on when he will come off PUP in camp but insisted it will happen. Williams, who ruptured his right patella tendon in August last preseason, figures he's "85 or 90 percent" right now. He certainly looked good in the first practice of camp Wednesday, although Whisenhunt preached caution.
LaRod Stephens-Howling remains a key component in the backfield, and Alfonso Smith showed he could fill in last season. The Cards are counting on Wells and Williams, however. Wells gained 1,047 yards and scored 10 touchdowns despite playing with the knee injury almost all season. Williams is the hoped-for star-in-waiting.
Not that either can dwell on it.
"Those are the types of things I'm not allowed to think about," Williams said. "Something like that, it lingers in your head, and you can't be you. You are worrying about stuff that doesn't matter, when all that matters is when you step on the field you give 100 percent whether you are 70, 80, 90 (percent).
"I mean, Beanie pushed through a knee injury all last year and still busted 1,000 yards. You can't think about those things. When it's time for you to go, you gotta go."
Williams said the last 10 percent or so he needs to recover is "muscle memory" and getting comfortable.
"My type of running style, I am very violent, very aggressive," Williams said. "It's getting that comfortable back, feeling like me."
Wells said he isn't frustrated because he knew camp would be a slow process. Unable to do anything with the team in practice until he is off PUP, Wells doesn't see the point of putting unnecessary wear on the body in camp while acknowledging he does need some camp time.
"I don't think anyone wants to see a 75 percent Beanie Wells," Wells said. "I think everyone wants to see a 100 percent Beanie Wells."
Running backs coach Tommie Robinson said the team is listening to Reed as far as what each player can do physically. "But the mental part, both Beanie and Ryan have done a good job learning what was going on and staying abreast of the offense," he said.
The Cardinals need to find out who their starting quarterback will be in 2012. But the success of their offense may hinge on the performance of their running backs.
"(Ryan) is a talented running back and he's supposed to want to be on the field, just like me," Wells said. "I want the ball every play and I'm sure he's going to want it too."