Running back Beanie Wells (left) carries the ball against Philadelphia last weekend. Wells was placed on injured reserve Wednesday, leaving the starting job to Ryan Williams (right).
A week makes a difference for Ryan Williams.
Had Beanie Wells suffered his severe turf toe injury last week, the injury that sent the starting running back to the injured reserve-designated to return list Wednesday and sidelining him for at least eight weeks, Williams acknowledged he might not have been able to handle it.
Williams was coming off his terrible fumble in New England and the emotional passing of his grandfather. If circumstances would have also forced him to suddenly be the running back workhorse for the Cardinals, "you probably should have put me up in the mental asylum."
But Williams is instead coming off a good game against Philadelphia in which he gained 83 yards on 13 carries, giving him momentum heading into these uncertain times for the Cards' running game.
"I know the other guys will step up," quarterback Kevin Kolb said, "but it's a huge loss."
Unlike the regular IR list, Wells can return this season because of the new rule just instituted prior to the start of the regular season. But he must remain on the list for at least six weeks unable to practice, and he cannot return to the active roster for at least eight weeks.
Sitting out eight weeks would put Wells back on the roster for the Nov. 25 home game against Rams. Wells could still return later than that, depending on his recovery.
To replace Wells on the roster, the Cardinals re-signed running back Alfonso Smith. Williams figures to get the bulk of the carries – he said expects an increase of five to 10 – but coach Ken Whisenhunt was quick to point out backups LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell as candidates to get work.
"We certainly feel comfortable with the other guys carrying the ball so we'll still continue to split time with the backs just because that's the way we've done it," Whisenhunt said.
Williams, however, will be the focal point. He is still feeling his way a bit after missing all of his rookie season after rupturing his patella, and admitted last week he had times when he was more concerned about protecting the knee instead of going full bore.
Williams had 62 of his rushing yards in the fourth quarter against the Eagles, building confidence for a player who had lost some after his New England fumble.
"I got that good game up under me," Williams said. "I told myself, 'Forget about the rest.' I came back already. I can't sit there and two-step up in the hole. I can't sit there and not play fast, because that's not what they expect. I'm a rookie but I'm not a rookie.
"I'm glad (the bumps) happened early in the season. I'm creating good habits so it won't happen anymore."
Williams is hard on himself, something Kolb noticed (and is familiar with in his own circumstances). Kolb sat Williams down after the New England game for a pep talk.
"The real pros find a way to get themselves out of it, and he did it," Kolb said.
Wells had his lone 1,000-yard season a year ago, gaining 1,047 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns despite suffering the early season knee injury against Pittsburgh. His return over the offseason was slower than anticipated. In three games this season, Wells has only 76 yards on 29 carries, a 2.9-yard average. He has not scored while splitting time with Williams.
While Wells has suffered a handful of injuries in his career, he has missed very few games. Of the 53 (including playoffs) games the Cards have played since Wells arrived in the league, he has only missed five before this latest injury.
If he can return for the Rams' game, that would give him the last six regular-season games, plus – the Cardinals hope – the playoffs.
It will be up to Williams to help keep the offense afloat in the meantime.
"This is a lot more than I expected this year," Williams said. "But here it is, ready or not.
"I feel like this will be a defining moment for my career, coming back from a (potential) career-ending injury. It'll be cool. It's what I always wanted since I was a young'un. When I make something out of it, I think it will show a lot about who I am as a football player. I'm ready to see what I'm made of myself."