Rookie running back Beanie Wells (right) has a chance to be the Cards' best back since Ottis Anderson (left) dominated in the early 1980s.
Ottis Anderson had already led the Cardinals in rushing for six straight seasons – his streak of 1,000-yard performances broken only by the strike in 1982 – by the time Ron Wolfley showed up to be his fullback.
Yet Wolfley remembers the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Anderson as a guy who could move like he was 170 pounds. He remembers Anderson's burst, his quickness, his power.
And he sees many of those same things in the 6-1, 228-pound Beanie Wells, a player who can run around or through a defender.
"He has a lot higher gear than Ottis I think ever dreamed of having, and that's not a slam on Ottis," Wolfley said. "But Beanie has that same kind of coo-coo-cachoo, I call it, that little hiccup where those hips just 'boom' and break you down.
"He can embarrass you. He can embarrass you in front of your family, he can embarrass your wife who is watching you because this man can run right over you. And that makes his moves in the open field that much better."
Wells' indoctrination has been much slower than Anderson's, since Anderson was the Cardinals' workhorse back from the start of his rookie season (Anderson's career high of 1,605 yards rushing came in 1979, the first of his 14-year career).
With Tim Hightower starting, Wells still has more carries (153 to 127) and has a team-leading 706 yards. The chances of Wells supplanting Hightower on the depth chart seems unlikely, given that coach Ken Whisenhunt continues to praise Hightower's play, emphasizes there is a "good mix going" and generally would rather see Wells fight for his playing time.
"Is he going to be an every down player?" Whisenhunt asked before answering himself. "He'll get a lot of snaps but I don't know if he'll ever be an every-down just because I still believe you have to have a couple of backs to be successful in this league."
Given that, it may be harder for Wells to ever reach Anderson's overall productivity – five seasons of at least 1,170 yards, and three of at least 1,300.
Yet Wells is learning patience, even with his own game – "I definitely think I have some growing to do," he said – and the quantity of his touches doesn't mean quality is absent.
"When you see safeties and corners not want to step up and tackle him, you're setting a tone and reputation for yourself," fullback Dan Kreider said. "People are scared of you and the whole team feeds off that."
Safety Adrian Wilson compared Wells to the Rams' Steven Jackson – whom the Cards face Sunday – as a player defensive backs are wary of tackling.
"They don't want to hit Beanie," Wilson said. "One run last week in Detroit, that rookie safety they had (Louis Delmas), he tried to come in high on Beanie and Beanie just shook him off."
The combination of power with playmaking speed has been missing from the franchise all the way back to Anderson, who was traded to the Giants in 1986.
Stump Mitchell had a solid stint in the backfield, but he crossed the 1,000-yard threshold just once. Since the Cards came to Arizona, they have spent seven draft picks in either the first or second round on a running back. None really panned out.
Garrison Hearst and Thomas Jones were high No. 1 draft picks who had bigger success elsewhere (Jones never even led the team in rushing during his stint as a Card). LeShon Johnson, Leeland McElroy and J.J. Arrington were drafted for their speed but were never backs with which to build a running game around.
Free-agent signee Edgerrin James is the only back with two 1,000-yard seasons for the Cards since Anderson, but by the time he came to Arizona, his big-play ability was long gone. Johnny Johnson made a Pro Bowl but never gained 1,000 yards.
"Beanie has got so much potential and such an upside it will be fun to watch him progress from here," quarterback Kurt Warner said.
If the 2009 draft were held again, it's hard to imagine Wells lasting until No. 31, where the Cardinals got him. There is some irony in the fact the Jacksonville Jaguars, who held the No. 8 pick, apparently considered taking Wells before drafting tackle Eugene Monroe.
The Cardinals drafted Anderson eighth overall all those years ago.
"I do know who Ottis Anderson is," Wells said. "My first goal when I came here was to be the best running back to ever wear an Arizona Cardinals jersey. That's still my goal."
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