Running back William Powell rushes for one of his three preseason touchdowns.
Standing in the visiting locker room at Tennessee's LP Stadium last week after the Cardinals played, Larry Fitzgerald flashed a smile when he was asked about William Powell.
"Wi-Po for President!" the wide receiver said about the running back who was working so hard to stick around.
"Wi-Po" might not be the most dynamic nickname of all time, but when you are a back relegated to the practice squad, and that for all of two weeks, in 2011, you take what you can get. Suddenly, Powell is the NFL's leading rusher in the preseason with 231 yards, averaging seven yards a carry. He has gone from someone who figured to be a camp body to getting work with the first unit in Thursday's preseason finale against Denver and a player who has a legitimate chance to make the final 53-man roster.
"Last year we didn't know a lot about him and then he got a million carries in the last game," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
It wasn't quite a million. But it was against the Broncos, it was the preseason finale and, because Whisenhunt didn't want to risk injuries to any other backs, it was a surprising total of 29 carries in a single game. Powell was cut the next day.
He had signed with the Cards going into training camp, had been cut in Flagstaff and brought back when Ryan Williams went down with his patella injury. After the final cuts, Powell returned once again to the practice squad the final two weeks of the season as protection with Beanie Wells' bad knee. And as he got ready for this preseason, he wanted to make sure he'd be ready for another 29-carry game, if it came to that.
"I feel like I handled it pretty well (last year) but I wanted to make sure I handled it 100 percent each and every play, no matter how many reps I got," Powell said.
Powell has consistently made plays this preseason, whether as a kickoff return man, on special teams, or as a running back, Whisenhunt said. "That's what gets your attention."
With Wells, Williams, and LaRod Stephens-Howling all going to be on the roster, Powell is battling Alfonso Smith for a fourth and likely final running back spot. It's unknown if he will definitely start against the Broncos, but it'll be the earliest playing time he's ever gotten as he tries to make the team.
"You don't want to get complacent or relax," said Powell, who only had 23 carries at Kansas State in two years there in college. "I want to make sure I am ready for anything. I never want to feel I can relax. I need to push forward. … Making the final cuts, I just have to do my part."
As the roster is trimmed, finding the right combination of offensive linemen for a limited amount of space is crucial. Many times in the regular season, Whisenhunt prefers to have just seven offensive linemen activated, leaving just two backup and making versatility king.
That's a reason Jeremy Bridges has lasted so long with his ability to play guard and tackle, and why newcomer Rich Ohrnberger – who can play center and guard – has made a strong push to make the roster after being signed after training camp began.
"My goal coming into camp was to work as hard as I could to make this team," said Ohrnberger, who said he's played "everywhere" since coming into the NFL in 2009 with New England. "They could ask me to play anywhere and I'd do it. It's up to them and I'll get in there and do as good a job as I can."
Ohrnberger played some with the first unit Tuesday at right guard as starter Adam Snyder missed practice to have his elbow checked out. The injury is not expected to be serious, but it underscores the need for versatile players.
"For some guys," Whisenhunt said, "versatility is why they can be on a team for a number of years."
Aside from Snyder, safety Adrian Wilson continued to be limited with a sore calf, while wide receiver Stephen Williams sat out with an Achilles injury. Safety Rashad Johnson (abdomen) returned to work, and linebacker O'Brien Schofield said his knee continues to improve as he was able to more in practice.