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Wells given No. 1 RB nod for Cardinals, but questions linger

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Coach Ken Whisenhunt has made it clear that Beanie Wells is the unquestioned No. 1 running back for the Arizona Cardinals, a status he's always coveted.

"It makes you feel great," Wells said after the team's morning walkthrough on Wednesday. "I'm just coming out and working as it is my job. I think you definitely feel a lot different when something is definitely yours as opposed to when you have a little bit of uncertainty, but right now I'm just working and competing like I am the No. 1 tailback."

Still, the former Ohio State star knows that questions linger about his NFL future, as much for his durability as anything else.

After Arizona chose him with the 31st pick overall in 2009, he overcame an early injury in training camp to rush for 793 yards as a rookie, averaging 4.6 yards.

He seemed poised for a breakthrough sophomore pro season. But early in the final preseason game, Wells went down with a knee injury that turned out to be a lot more serious than the Cardinals would let on in the coming weeks.

He wound up undergoing arthroscopic surgery and never felt at full strength.

"It was awful last year," Wells said. "I was really frustrated and had a lot going on. It was tough to fully get my mind on the football season last year because of what happened. I don't think mentally I was 100 percent into it because that takes so much out of you."

He played in 13 games but rarely displayed the dynamic power that he has shown at his best, finishing with 116 carries, averaging 3.4 yards an attempt as the Arizona offense struggled in a 5-11 season.

"You have to understand Beanie's makeup," Whisenhunt said. "First of all, with all the attention he had in college, expectations of where he was going to be drafted and then not going as high as probably he thought, a lot of pressure to prove that. When he thought he had his opportunity to do that, he had an unfortunate thing with his knee and that set him back. That was tough for Beanie. That's a tough situation to try to fight through, and quite frankly he didn't handle it probably as well as he could have, and that's part of maturity."

After the team used a second-round draft pick to select running back Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech, Wells knew something was up at the position, so he wasn't surprised when the team traded Tim Hightower to the Washington Redskins.

"We had a crowded backfield," Wells said. "We knew somebody wasn't going to be here."

Now that he knows he will be the No. 1 back, Wells said he thinks he will perform better.

"I guess it's more of a comfort standpoint," he said. "Honestly, it makes you work harder, it makes you focused because now you know you are counted on. He's granted you sort of a wish. He's putting you in a position where you're going to be out there contributing basically every down. That makes you work hard. That's a big responsibility and I take it seriously."

He knows critics will continue to label him susceptible to injury.

"It's something that people say but I know it's not true," he said. "The coaches know it's not true. We'll just move on from there."

Wells turns 23 on Sunday, and Whisenhunt believes the back has gained some much-need maturity through his two NFL seasons.

"I think what Beanie's had to learn is you have to adapt to whatever you're faced with," he said. "It seems like Beanie's always been a very good football player and having to deal with adversity is not something he probably had done a lot of. It's not easy and when you have to do it for the first time as a young back in a tow that's unfamiliar to you a little bit, it's tough."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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