Cards thin in backfield after losing rookie Williams for season

TEMPE, Ariz.. -- Arizona rookie running back Ryan Williams will undergo surgery early next week to repair a ruptured patella tendon in his right knee.

The season-ending injury for the second-round draft pick out of Virginia Tech came during the Cardinals' 28-20 loss at Green Bay Friday night. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said on Saturday that the team will be looking to sign a running back soon, if only because one is needed to round out the reps in practice, then keep looking as other teams make roster cuts.

"I think that there's a couple of guys out there," Whisenhunt said, "but you've got to do some research as to their role and how are they going to accept that role, because that's important to your team."

Cardinals coaches had been impressed with Williams' hard-running style and ability to make cuts during training camp. His addition was a major reason the team was willing to trade Tim Hightower to the Washington Redskins in late July.

"We were very excited about Ryan," Whisenhunt said. "We think he's a fabulous young player and we're looking forward to having him with our team as we go forward. It's unfortunate but whenever an opportunity ends for a player like that, an opportunity opens for another one."

Whisenhunt said there was no damage in the knee beyond the ruptured tendon.

"Hopefully we're looking at having them back before training camp next year," the coach said.

Williams was injured during the third quarter when he landed awkwardly after being tackled from behind. It was the kind of occurrence that NFL coaches know all too well.

"You're so excited about a young man like Ryan and you build a relationship with him over a short time and you want to see him have success and that's put on hold a little bit," Whisenhunt said. "But just for the little time I've been around him, I know how hard he'll work to get back and rehab. He'll be back and doing a great job for us in the future, so you have that to hold on to. But that's part of the game."

Williams had been the No. 3 back behind starter Beanie Wells and LaRod Stephens-Howling. The diminutive, exceedingly quick Stephens-Howling, though, is not the kind of power back that Wells and Williams are. The only other running back on the roster is second-year pro Alfonso Smith, who was on the practice squad last year.

Whisenhunt said he had been "very impressed" with Smith, signed as an undrafted rookie free agent a year ago out of Kentucky.

"He's grown and legitimately done a good job for us," the coach said, "so I'm excited to see how he handles this role. We'll obviously look and see what other opportunities may be available to us, but it's got to be the right fit because I think we have a pretty good chemistry going with our team and with that group."

Whisenhunt said Smith "did a nice job in protection last night."

"He's physical, he runs hard, he's got good speed," the coach said. `As far as needing a back that has some size that can pound it up in there, it appears that Alfonso has gotten comfortable with that, and and he's still got some good outside speed, too, and he does a good job on special teams."

The injury could mean an even bigger work load for Wells, who has reveled in being named the Cardinals' unquestioned No. 1 back.

"I think Beanie felt that there's more on his shoulders this year regardless of what the situation was," Whisenhunt said. "I think we saw it a little bit last night when he was running the football. I've heard some people say he ran angry which is good to see. `'

Backup quarterback John Skelton also sprained an ankle in the game.

"I don't know where he'll be," Whisenhunt said. "We'll have a better sense of that Monday or Tuesday.

The Cardinals head north to Flagstaff for the final four games of their training camp there, with the first practice on Monday. Arizona plays its first home preseason game Saturday night against Denver.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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