Running Backs Off-season Analysis

Ken Whisenhunt's greatest failure as a first-year head coach was his inability to establish the running game. The Cardinals ranked No. 29 in yards per game (90) and No. 30 in yards per rush (3.6). Fixing the ground game is the top priority for 2008.

Historically, the Cardinals have one of the worst rushing records in the NFL. In 2006, they attempted to rewrite their ground game with the addition of Edgerrin James via a four-year, $30-million contract.

James gave them two seasons of 1,100-plus yards, but the Cardinals still finished near the bottom of the rushing rankings. The key to rejuvenating the running game is to get James a young, speedy sidekick -- James accounted for all but 218 of Arizona's rushing yards in 2007.

A couple years ago, the Cardinals and James were convinced that James alone could take this team to the next level.

"All they really need is a back," James said. "They've got an MVP quarterback [Kurt Warner] and they've got two Pro Bowl receivers."

The right pieces are still in place, but the Cardinals still struggle to grind out the 50-50 run-pass balance that Whisenhunt is looking for.

The Cardinals invested too much in James to leave him high and dry. They will stick with their star and figure out a way to maneuver a two-back system. Arizona needs young talent to take over when James' wheels stop turning.

Marcel Shipp, 29, has two years left on his contract but does not appear to be in the team's plans. He averages one carry per game over the last two seasons and failed to register a single carry in nine games in 2007.

The shifty J.J. Arrington also seems to be on borrowed time. Whisenhunt did not trust Arrington enough to give him more than four carries in any game in 2007.

The Cardinals re-signed practice squad member Steve Baylark. He is a powerhouse but can be light at the pedals when it comes to speed. He is a long-shot to stick next season.

The Cardinals could address this need in free agency. Michael Turner of the San Diego Chargers is a powerful back with big-play ability. He has three runs of 70-plus yards in his last 153 attempts and averages 5.5 yards per carry in his four-year career.

If the Cardinals choose to wait for the NFL draft, they could find Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall waiting for them with the No. 16 pick in the first round. Mendenhall has the elusiveness and strength the Cardinals offense needs.

Amberly Richardson is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a correspondent for Scout.com. She has contributed to the official Web sites of several NFL players for Sixthman Communications.

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