James Not Happy With Changing Role In AZ

The decision to bench running back Edgerrin James in favor of Tim Hightower was weeks in coming and signals a significant shift in coach Ken Whisenhunt's tenure with the team. In his two seasons, Whisenhunt has preached that the best players will play, but benching James for Hightower is a change that took a considerable amount of thought.

Edgerrin James had started every one of the 135 NFL games in which he has played. He has Hall of Fame credentials, and his signing with the club in 2006 was greeted with much fanfare and celebration.

But James has never been a great fit for this offense. Whisenhunt and his staff still think James has great value. His vision and agility are his greatest assets and he rarely loses yards. However, he doesn't break many runs, and coaches want a back who can create some big plays.

That's not James, who has only four runs of 20 yards or more in his time in Arizona, despite carrying 769 times.

Hightower is hardly a speed merchant, either, but he's an explosive, one-cut runner who has shown the ability to hit the ball hard up the middle and the speed to get outside.

He displayed that in last Sunday's victory over the Rams, gaining 109 yards on 22 carries, including a 30-yard touchdown run. It was the team's longest touchdown run in more than three years and the longest scoring run since 2002.

James' role in the offense had diminished in recent weeks as the Cardinals increasingly turned to their passing game, often going to formations with four and five receivers.

Hightower played more on third down, as did J.J. Arrington, who plays the single back in the four-receiver formation.

James hasn't hid his unhappiness with his changing role, although it's not as if he called press conferences to announce it. He simply answered questions about he was dealing with the change.

Whisenhunt said he didn't enter the game with the idea of keeping James on the bench but that circumstances dictated. Afterward, James was asked if he thought his benching was a response to his speaking out.

"Man, it's been brewing for a while," he said. "I'm supportive of Tim and happy for him.

"I don't fit the 'yes man' mold," he said, "so it's going to always come down on me. I'm not going to be a yes man. They can sit me down for the rest of the year, it don't matter. I'll come out, go to work."

James has no intention of retiring but he knows this likely is his last year in Arizona. He is due to make $5 million salary this year, and the club isn't going to keep someone making that salary as a backup.

James' tenure in Arizona hasn't brought the franchise success, but that's not his fault. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards for two consecutive years, the first Cardinal to do that since Ottis Anderson in 1983-84.

But James has had to work like never before to reach those numbers. In his first season, under Dennis Green, the Cardinals offense was always in transition, with players in and out of the lineup and offensive coordinators in and out of jobs.

Whisenhunt and his staff arrived in Arizona a year after James. While still placing a high value on James' skill, coaches wanted a breakaway threat at running back. James has had a difficult time breaking tackles on the second level, tackles that coaches hope Hightower can evade.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I expected him (Tim) to have a big day. We knew we should have a big day running the ball, regardless of who was in there." -- RB Edgerrin James on rookie RB Tim Hightower gaining 109 yards on 22 carries against the Rams.

LINEUP WATCH: Rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is creeping closer to replacing Eric Green as a starting cornerback.

Rodgers-Cromartie has shown improvement since the start of the season, while Green has struggled to make plays. Rodgers-Cromartie had some initial trouble adjusting to the intricacies and the speed of the professional game, but at some point, the coaches want to get his athleticism into the lineup. Rodgers-Cromartie has the potential to be a playmaker, while Green has only two interceptions in four seasons. He has been a starter most of that time.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--TE Leonard Pope has missed the last two games with a right ankle/foot injury. Pope was in a walking cast for the past two weeks but coaches hope he can play Monday night against the 49ers.

--TE Ben Patrick hasn't played since suffering a knee injury on Oct. 5. Coaches are hoping he will be able to play this week.

--TE Jerame Tuman started the past two games in place of the injured Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick.

--WR Early Doucet, a rookie, has been hampered by injuries this year. A hamstring strain in camp caused him to miss the opening weeks of the season, and a groin strain forced him to miss the St. Louis game.

--OT Mike Gandy suffered a sprained right ankle against the Rams and will be evaluated early this week. If Gandy can't start, it's likely that Levi Brown will move to the left side, with Elton Brown (no relation) playing right tackle.

--RB Tim Hightower's 30-yard touchdown run was the team's longest run just more than three years and its longest touchdown run since Jake Plummer scored from 34 yards in 2002.


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