First-round pick Chris "Beanie" Wells holds up his jersey with owner Bill Bidwill (left) and general manager Rod Graves (right) during Thursday's press conference.
Ken Whisenhunt was giving a rundown of all of his team's draft picks, with video help, to fans at the Cardinals' recent charity coaches breakfast, and first up was highlights of No. 1 draft pick Beanie Wells.
The Cardinals' head coach came to a play between Ohio State – Wells' school – and Michigan State. Wells took the handoff and cut up inside, where Spartans linebacker Adam Decker was waiting for him. The two collided. Wells knocked Decker backward and kept moving forward for a few more yards.
"For some reason, people have questioned Beanie's toughness," Whisenhunt said, rewinding the video and showing the play once more. "I think this shows Beanie is pretty tough."
Wells – who was introduced at a press conference Thursday, the day before the Cardinals begin their lone mandatory minicamp – became something of a paradox as the draft approached. There is little question of his production, which included 1,609 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2007 and another 1,197 yards and eight touchdowns in 2008 despite missing three games with a turf toe injury.
Those three games were the only three games Wells missed in three collegiate seasons. But there is also little question some doubt floated around Wells in the months leading to the draft. He was considered by far the top draft-eligible running back in the country when the 2008 season began. He ended up falling to the Cardinals at No. 31 when Georgia's Knowshon Moreno and Connecticut's Donald Brown were taken ahead of him.
Wells heard the whispers. He answered the queries from NFL teams. He never thought twice whether he was tough enough.
"It is something you have to deal with," Wells said. "The NFL is a big business and guys are going to have to deal with everything you possibly can.
"(I missed) three games in three years, so I don't understand the durability question. I have been injured, so that's a gimme. But with durability and toughness, I don't think that's a question at all."
Wells enjoyed his massive 2007 season – including a spectacular 222-yard performance against arch-rival Michigan – while playing with a broken bone in his wrist. These are details of which legends are made. But it was also a season Wells battled a nagging ankle problem, and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel at one point sat Wells down and talked to him about "becoming a warrior."
The feeling in Columbus wasn't that Wells wasn't tough enough, but more that he needed to care for himself more diligently when he was banged up. At 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Wells was regarded as a battering ram of a runner, which didn't exactly lend itself to avoiding nicks.
When Ohio State played LSU in the national championship game after the 2007 season, Cardinals linebacker Ali Highsmith – who was playing for LSU at the time – said the scouting report on Wells was simple.
"We knew he was one of those downhill running backs, not too shifty or too many moves, and he wouldn't shy away from contact," Highsmith said. "Either you bring it to him or he brings it to you."
Turf toe nearly derailed his 2008 season, and his numbers dropped. Ohio State observers said Wells would take himself out of games at times – never in crucial situations – which might have raised flags with NFL scouts.
Whatever might have gotten the attention of scouts, or what might have created any of the negative buzz around Wells going into the draft, Cardinals general manager Rod Graves said didn't matter by the time the Cards' pick arrived in the first round.
"When those concerns surface, like any other team in the NFL, we look into it," Graves said. "But for a back as productive as he has been, I didn't see a reason to be concerned in any way. We talked extensively with people within the Ohio State program and they all talked about his toughness and his durability. We were satisfied that wasn't an issue."
His use in Arizona might actually help Wells. With coach Ken Whisenhunt planning to use Tim Hightower and Jason Wright as well as Wells, the rookie may not have to take as much of a pounding. Even Wells noted the Cards have a passing offense that won't allow defenses to jam eight and nine men in the box to defend him, so "I'm excited where I'm not going to be the focal point of the offense."
Wells' college teammate, newly drafted Bears linebacker Marcus Freeman, told the Akron Beacon Journal "if you play with this guy every day in practice, you know how tough he is."
That's what will cement Wells' reputation with the Cardinals – his play from here on forward. Whatever was said during the draft process tends to be forgotten.
"All during the college season, they talk about how good you are," Highsmith said. "Then you go through the draft process and all you hear is everything that has gone wrong.
"If he's going to come in here and be a bruiser, come in here and be a bruiser. Just be smart about it."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 4/30/09.