LaRod Stephens-Howling A Potential Key Part To Cardinals 2012 Running Game With Williams, Wells Recovering From Surgery

On Tuesday, Arizona Cardinals running back Beanie Wells tweeted that he was undergoing surgery. It was later confirmed that he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee, performed by Dr. James Andrews. It is not expected to sideline him significantly and he should not miss any offseason work.

2011 second-round draft pick Ryan Williams, another running back is also recovering from knee surgery that he had months ago. He lost his rookie season to an injury he suffered in the preseason. He is completely confident he will return and become the special player he believes he will be, but he will not likely be part of minicamp. He is, though, on track to be fully recovered and ready to go when the team goes to training camp.

With the team's top two running backs entering the 2012 season with surgically repaired knees -- Williams with a serious injury and Wells with his second knee surgery since coming to the NFL -- Cardinals fans ought to have at least some concern about the running game in 2012, as injuries, no matter how minor they may seem, can be unpredictable.

This is where another back on the team comes in. Enter the diminutive LaRod Stephens-Howling. At 5-7, 185 lbs, he potentially could be the Cardinals' saving grace should Wells or Williams come back less effective or have issues again with their knees.

LSH, or "Hyphen," as many fans call him, was a seventh-round pick by the Cardinals. He was drafted for his ability to return kicks and his special teams play in general. In 2010, he was the team's most exciting player.

However, he has never been considered to be a back that could play every down. In fact, because of his role in the return game and in kick and punt coverage, he does not get a lot of offensive snaps. At best, he has been considered a situational back or scat-back in the mold of Darren Sproles.

In 2011, he made less of an impact in the return game, as moving kickoffs to the 35-yard line diminished greatly the impact of kick returners. He did, though, make big contributions on offense with limited snaps. His 52-yard touchdown reception in overtime to give the Cardinals a win was one of the most exciting plays of the season. He also had a 73-yard touchdown reception earlier in the season.

But what he did in Week 17 against the Seattle Seahawks hopefully opened the eyes of the coaching staff and fans. With Wells sitting out the final game of the season, LSH carried the ball 21 times for 93 yards against a very good run defense. He was taken off of the kick return team to do so, but his impact was made. He had a 39-yard run in the first half and had carries of eight and seven yards in overtime to put the team in chip shot field goal range for Jay Feely to end the game.

What is significant about his play in the running game is that he was used as an every down back and he was effective. Yes, 39 of his 93 yards came on one play, but 16 of his carries were inside the tackles and seven of those carries went for at least four yards. More importantly, when the game was on the line in overtime and the team needed to run the ball inside for better field goal position, he was successful at it.

There is a large number of fans who believe that he is underutilized on offense. Before Week 17, he carried the ball 22 times, just one more than he got against Seattle.

It was only one game, but maybe instead of being considered a Darren Sproles-lite, perhaps we should start seeing him closer to a Maurice Jones-Drew-lite (lite and 'light,' as MJD outweighs LSH by 20 lbs with the same body height).

If both Beanie and Ryan Williams were to go down again, most would think that the Cardinals running game would be shot. We should change that line of thinking. In a small seventh-round kick returner, the Cardinals might just have a third back on their team capable of being a feature back.

After years of looking for one feature back, who would have ever thought that the Cards actually could have three?

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