Kerwynn Williams wants to take advantage of opportunity with Arizona Cardinals
GLENDALE, Ariz. — In the NFL, one man’s injury is another’s opportunity.
“Next Man Up” is both a mantra and a necessity for teams in a sport that is about as physical and violent as you will find. Players get hurt — some worse than others — and teams have to continue on without them.
Perhaps no one embodied that more last year than running back Kerwynn Williams, who quickly rose from free agent pickup to practice squad player to starting running back.
He responded by posting the first — and only — 100-yard rushing effort of the season in Arizona’s Week 14 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. A week later, he tallied 75 yards in a road win over the St. Louis Rams.
He finished the season with 246 yards on 53 carries, while adding another 11 yards on two receptions.
Yet, while Williams’ performance in limited action last season earned him a spot with the team during training camp, his play over the next month will go a long way toward determining if he keeps it for the regular season.
That, and injuries.
Williams has been getting the bulk of action with the first-team offense in training camp as two of the team’s top backs, Andre Ellington and David Johnson, are sitting out with hamstring problems. Another running back, Marion Grice, is also sidelined.
“You always want to seize every opportunity and try to make the best of every opportunity presented in front of you,” Williams said. “So I’m just trying to make the best of the extra time that I’m getting.”
While the 24-year-old is trying to make the most of his added reps, he said it’s not ideal that they come due to his teammates’ ailments.
“Especially guys that are important to the process that we’re trying to accomplish, the long-term goal,” he said. “So it’s always tough seeing those guys go down, but you always have to be ready if that ever were to happen so it’s never really any let off, so you’ve always got to be ready for that.”
Just as Williams rose to the occasion late last season, he has done well so far in camp, breaking off some solid runs as well as looking good as a receiver out of the backfield. His production has not gone unnoticed, and it’s caused him to move up in the depth chart.
“Right now Kerwynn’s having a heck of a camp,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Friday morning. “I trust Kerwynn with everything as far as playing running back. Now, he’s not the receiver that Andre is or David — now, David’s got to get on the field, he hasn’t put pads on yet; we’ll find out whenever he gets back out there — and Robert Hughes is having a solid camp, as is Stepfan (Taylor), Stepfan’s as steady as they get.
“But right now, Kerwynn would be leading the pack.”
The operative words there are “right now,” as plenty could change over the next few weeks. In fact, Williams had a couple of fumbles in Friday’s practice, which led to him being pulled by Arians for a handful of plays.
While Williams is mostly showing well, he knows his spot in the roster is anything but secure. It’s the reality he’s faced ever since entering the league, and one he is comfortable dealing with.
“I feel like it’s the same thing for everyone every year; I feel like you can never get complacent, you always have to keep pushing forward and keep pushing to be the best that you can be,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process and I’m definitely excited about it.”
Williams said the way he approaches his opportunity is to make sure effort and execution are not the problem. The way he sees it, as long as he gives it his all, if it’s not enough, he can live with that.
And with a potentially deep stable of running backs, Williams knows his task is not an easy one. Whether or not he needed injuries to Ellington and Johnson to get a legitimate shot or not, the only thing that matters is he has one.
“I don’t know, I don’t have a crystal ball,” Arians answered when asked if Williams would be in this position without the injuries. “All I know is what we’ve got, and he’s the best one we’ve got right now.”