Running back Kerwynn Williams (33) takes a handoff from running backs coach Stump Mitchell, behind the block of Robert Hughes (39) during OTAs.
After another nice gain in his out-of-nowhere 100-yard performance against the Chiefs last season, running back Kerwynn Williams turned to the Cardinals sideline and mimicked shoveling food into his mouth with an imaginary spoon.
His message to the coaching staff was clear: Feed me.
Williams received 19 carries in that Week 14 contest, and with the Cardinals' top two running backs sidelined – Andre Ellington because of
injury and Jonathan Dwyer due to suspension – he was counted on heavily for the remainder of the season. A practice squad unknown previously, Williams was a revelation. He finished 2014 with 53 rushing attempts for 246 yards, with a yards-per-carry average of 4.6 -- best on the team and a number that would have been 13th in the NFL if he had enough carries to qualify.
But as 2014 turns to 2015, Ellington is healthy, the Cardinals drafted David Johnson in the third round and Stepfan Taylor, Robert Hughes and Marion Grice all remain on the roster.
Williams feasted on his opportunity last year, but now must fight for a seat at the table along with the other hungry backs. While some players may have a sense of entitlement after a stint like that, Williams has no issue battling for his spot as training camp beckons in two weeks.
"I never think I have anything in hand," Williams said. "I'm always working to be in the best position to have the best overall outcome for myself. I never really settle on what happened last year or even what's going on right now. I'm worried about improving myself every day."
If Williams can indeed build on last year's showing, he will be in good position to make the team. While it's expected Ellington and Johnson
will split the lion's share of the carries, coach Bruce Arians said that's far from determined. Ellington is the team's starting running back, but after that it's an open competition.
Arians singled out Williams several times during offseason work, reminding those listening how integral he was when the Cardinals were running low on ball-carriers. It was Williams' first taste of NFL success, which steels him as he heads into his third NFL season.
"It does feel a little bit different," Williams said. "You have a little bit more confidence moving forward. That's the biggest thing. But as far as does it feel different position-wise? No. You have to keep pushing. If it starts to feel like it's the same old thing, that's complacency settling in. I never want to be in that position. I always want to feel like I have something to work for and continue to push myself."
It was clear after only one game that Williams' jitterbug moves and burst were NFL-quality, and even though he's listed at 5-foot-8 and 198 pounds, he received a positive grade from Pro Football Focus for his pass-blocking. Both the analytics site and Arians agree that, in order for Williams to become a complete player, his receiving ability out of the backfield needs to improve.
"He'll catch the ball out here when it's just us, but as soon as he gets in the game, he dropped some balls last year," Arians said. "His pass receiving ability is what slows him down a little bit, but his running ability is no problem."
Williams welcomes the constructive criticism and said he already realizes the weaknesses in his game because "I'm my own biggest critic." He will head into camp determined to shore up weaknesses and fine-tune his strengths, with the memory of last year a nice carrot, but not one which will affect his preparation.
"My mindset never changes," Williams said. "I want to put myself in the best position to be prepared to play whatever role the coaches want me to do. If that means being on top of the playbook or being on top of my assignment on special teams, it's really up to the coaches to decide what my role will be. Whatever role that is, I want to be prepared to the best of my ability."
The top rushers on the Cardinals in 2014