Running back Tim Hightower has two 100-yard games in two years -- both in St. Louis.
Beanie Wells sat again Thursday. And Tim Hightower waited.
The talk of the offseason was what Wells would do in his second year. The talk of training camp was when Wells was going to become a starter. The talk of the first week was how Wells' injured knee was healing.
Meanwhile, Hightower – in his third year, still starting despite Wells' presence – continues to prepare. Regardless of Beanie's situation, Hightower was going to start in St. Louis Sunday. He remains a key to the Cards' offense envisioned by coach Ken Whisenhunt, even if in many eyes he trails the Beanie bandwagon.
"This is a results-driven business," Hightower said. "You can say what you want about being a complete back, but at the end of the day, people look at stats. They look for results, and that's one thing I haven't had. I haven't rushed for 1,000 yards, I haven't been to a Pro Bowl.
"From an outside perspective, you're not looking for, 'Oh, this guy blocks well on third downs.' Or 'He does the intangibles,' or 'He does the things that help the team win.' You're looking for stats. You understand where they are coming from. But from my perspective, I know what I have to do."
With an identical 143 carries last year that he got as a rookie in 2008, Hightower gained 199 more yards than the 2008 (598 total), averaging 4.2 yards an attempt. He had 63 receptions for another 428 yards. He is the Cards' best back in pass protection, a big reason Wells has been unable to unseat Hightower as a starter.
If Beanie is out this week with his bad knee – and he missed a second straight practice Thursday – the Cards could do worse than to lean on Hightower in St. Louis. Hightower has rushed for 100 yards in a game twice, and they just happen to be the two trips to St. Louis the last two seasons.
Hightower ran for 109 yards on 22 carries as a rookie in 2008, and broke loose for 110 yards on just 14 carries last year.
"I don't know what it is," Hightower said. "We'll call it favorable. It's a good thing I've had success in St. Louis. Matter of fact, I plan on having better success this weekend. I'll say that."
Wells still will likely get the majority of the carries by the time the season ends (he did as a rookie, and that's after playing little early in the season). But Hightower doesn't plan to fade away, or give up his place in the offense.
"I know the challenges in front of me," Hightower said. "I kind of like, to use (a) term, under the radar. I just like the idea I have the chance to do something great and I am going to embrace it, regardless whether everyone expects me to do well or no one expects me to do well."
NO RETURN DECISION YET
Whisenhunt said he has yet to decide on a punt returner for this weekend, saying that the punt part of Friday's practice will be used as one of the deciding factors. While Whisenhunt said he will turn back to Steve Breaston if he isn't comfortable, the chances are strong he goes with a rookie wide receiver – either Max Komar or Andre Roberts.
Given that Komar has generally outperformed Roberts through most of the preseason, and that Roberts is in his first week of practice after missing a couple weeks, Komar seems the probably choice to be active Sunday.
"One of those guys will be (active) because we carry five receivers on game day," Whisenhunt said. "It'll come down the comfort level you feel and the role they play on special teams."
Whisenhunt said he will be cautious in deciding if Wells plays Sunday. "I don't want this to be something in Week 12, Week 13, Week 14, that you are having issues with," Whisenhunt said. …
The only player besides Wells who did not practice fully was running back Jason Wright (toe), who was limited. Wright is expected to be available Sunday. …
The Cards, who went 6-2 on the road last season in the regular season, are not fazed by opening with two road games to start the season. They visit Atlanta next week after St. Louis this weekend. "If there is a mindset that you have to have on the road, I think some of that was aided by the fact nobody expected us to do well in the playoffs (in 2008)," Whisenhunt said. "It was kind of an us against the world mentality. That made us better."
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