Running back Stepfan Taylor runs the ball during practice Sunday.
Like mostly everything from Friday night's preseason opener at Green Bay, the Cardinals' running game showed glimpses of progress and areas for improvement.
It also showed Bruce Arians that his team could function with just two running backs. It's not ideal, but it was good practice for Alfonso Smith and rookie Stepfan Taylor. With Rashard Mendenhall's tendinitis lingering, Ryan Williams' leg still bothering him, and Andre Ellington's neck and head still questionable, Smith and Taylor carried the entire load in the Cardinals' 17-0 win over the Packers. They combined for 85 yards on 32 carries – 64 yards on 20 carries for Taylor and 21 yards on 12 carries for Smith.
"It wasn't hard for me," Smith said. "Me and Step were talking, we had each other's backs. Mendenhall was there and he was our eyes on the sideline, telling us stuff if we didn't see it. It was good. I wasn't as tired. I didn't play much special teams though. That helped."
Mendenhall returned to practice Sunday in full pads while Ellington sat out again. Williams, who told
reporters last that week that he will definitely play against the Cowboys on Saturday, missed practice.
"I don't know if he'll play this week," Arians said.
With a day to let his performance marinate, Taylor reviewed his first NFL action with a cautious eye. He wants to improve his reads and stay patient while letting holes open up. Taylor also needs to keep his feet moving, he said.
With time and practice comes experience and there are three more games for this running attack to work out the kinks and be the unit Arians hopes it becomes: one that will set up the run with a blocking mentality.
"I think our identity, like everybody else in the league, we want to be able to run the football but (Arians is) going to be more aggressive taking shots," backup quarterback Drew Stanton said. "We're going to try to set up the run or establish the run and take some shots off of that. It's not going to be the same look all the time."
The Packers didn't blitz as much as Taylor was expecting but that could change as teams continue to add defensive schemes throughout the preseason.
Arians said the running game has "a chance if we continue to improve on the practice field" if it stays healthy. Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin clearly emphasized the run blocking aspect to the linemen at practice Sunday.
While the injured continue to heal and get back on the field, the Cardinals' running scheme will be shouldered by two players competing to be Arians' third and fourth backs. They're learning as they go and Friday was just another step, but they're already taking away valuable lessons.
"Be durable," Taylor said. "Be willing to compete and not sacrifice the team because you're tired. We've got to be able to push through. If you make one mistake and the quarterback's going to be hurt or anybody's going to be hurt out there. (We need to) show that we're durable and competing for the team."