TEMPE, Ariz. -- That breakout season so many have predicted for Beanie Wells might be on hold for a week.
The Arizona Cardinals' second-year running back sat out practice again Thursday with a sore right knee. He said the knee is "a lot better," but that it will be the coach's decision whether or not he will play in the Cardinals' season opener Sunday in St. Louis.
Arizona has three other running backs, so Whisenhunt said the team can be cautious with the injury.
"What concerns me is I don't want this to be something that in Week 12 or Week 13 or Week 14 that you're having issues with," Whisenhunt said. "Like we said earlier in the week, we're going to be conservative on it. If we feel like Beanie's made enough progress by Sunday, then he'll play. If we don't, then, like I said, I feel very strong at that position."
Asked about the possibility of missing the opener in what is supposed to be a big season for him, Wells flashed his trademark smile and said: "Sixteen games. It's a long season."
Even if he was healthy, Wells still would be behind starter Tim Hightower on the depth chart.
Wells, a first-round draft pick out of Ohio State, led the Cardinals in rushing last season with 793 yards in 176 carries, an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Hightower enters his third NFL season after being picked in the fifth round out of Richmond.
The burly Hightower carried 143 times for 598 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and caught 63 passes -- second-most among NFL running backs, behind Baltimore's Ray Rice -- for 428 yards.
Hightower also is one of the NFL's better protectors during a blitz, something Arizona might need with its remodeled offensive line.
"When I came in my first year, it was pretty much explained to me 'either you're going to pick up your pass protection or you're not going to play this week,'" he said. "So I think mentally it was kind of a thing: either I had to get good at this real quick or I wasn't going to see the football field."
Wells said he believes he's "doing great" in developing his pass blocking.
"I'm picking it up well," he said. "The most important thing for me is to know what I'm doing, know my assignments and what guy to block on each play, and I think I'm doing that just fine."
Wells struggled a bit during the preseason, gaining 75 yards in 25 carries. He also fumbled the ball away at Chicago's 6-yard line late in the first half of the Cardinals' third preseason game. Wells contends he was down before the ball came loose.
Besides, he said, "it's the preseason, so you take it for what it's worth. I understand last year I wanted to come out and have a great preseason because it was my first NFL experience. This year to take a back seat to that, you know it's preseason. It's going to be a long season ahead of you. I don't think any of the top backs had a great preseason."
Expect Arizona to try to lean heavily on the 1-2 running punch of Hightower and Wells.
"We're gearing up to be a running football team," Wells said. "I like that."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press