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Arizona Cardinals Training Camp Preview: Running Backs – Sports Illustrated

The first week of the 2022 NFL season is still weeks away, but training camp is just around the corner. Arizona Cardinals coaches and veteran players will return to State Farm Stadium for their annual training camp on July 26. Rookies report on July 21.
While some players will glide through the practices with their role on the team guaranteed, others will be fighting to find a place on the 53-man roster. In this series, we’ll take a look at every position group and the players who have a spot on the roster protected and those who will be battling for a roster role.
Running Backs
James Conner
The Cardinals inked a three-year deal with Conner early in the offseason, solidifying his role as the lead back for the team. The $21 million contract came after an impressive season where the 27-year-old rushed for 752 yards and was second in the league in rushing touchdowns (15).
Conner seems to have found the perfect fit after an up and down four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After making the Pro Bowl in 2018, Conner battled injuries and never played in more than 13 games a season with the black and gold. His fortunes changed when he signed a one-year deal with the Cardinals last season, missing two games and making his second Pro Bowl appearance.
Entering into his second season with the Cardinals, Conner will continue to be their main weapon on the goal line. Last season, 12 of his 15 touchdowns came within the opponents' 10-yard line.
Eno Benjamin
The Cardinals said goodbye to running back Chase Edmonds this offseason. After four seasons in the desert, Edmonds is heading for beach vibes with the Miami Dolphins. Last season, Edmonds and Conner were a tandem, sharing the starting role. If a timeshare is to continue this season, players like Benjamin have a large opportunity in front of them during camp.
Benjamin was drafted in the seventh round in 2020 out of Arizona State University. Despite being inactive during his rookie season, Benjamin entered 2021 as the third back on the Cardinals. Through nine games, he rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown. Benjamin saw time on the kickoff return team, returning seven kicks for 162 yards.
If the Cardinals are looking to find a similar player in Edmonds, then Benjamin fits the bill. The two are almost identical in size and height. One area where Benjamin and Edmonds deviated was in the passing game. Along with tallying 592 yards on the ground, Edmonds 311 yards receiving. In the small sample size from last season, Benjamin had six catches for 42 yards.
With the Sun Devils, Benjamin showed an ability to be a reliable pass-catcher, averaging 208 yards a season.
Darrel Williams
Following four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Williams signed a one-year contract with Arizona in late May. Unlike younger players like Benjamin, Williams is one of the more experienced running backs on the roster. His years in the NFL trails only Conner's five seasons.
That experience in the league, especially while on a talented team such as the Chiefs, is valuable when competing for a role on the roster. In an effort to replace Edmonds, Williams has shown the ability to produce while working in a running back by committee approach.
In the high-powered offense of Kansas City, Williams displayed the ability to stand out despite starting in only seven games throughout his career. In 2021, when Williams saw his role increase, he was the team's leading rusher and fourth in receiving yards.
Jonathan Ward
An undrafted free agent in 2020, Ward spent his rookie season rotating between the team's active roster and the practice squad. In 2021, Ward made the active roster and spent his time on special teams, recording four solo tackles and a forced fumble.
It is a tough hill to climb for the 24-year-old to surpass players like Benjamin and Williams, especially with such limited experience in the team's offense. In his two seasons, he has been a consistent presence on special teams and that would be expected to stay the same if he makes the roster.
Keaontay Ingram
In this year's draft, the Cardinals spent their sixth-round pick on Ingram, a promising athlete who played three seasons at Texas before transferring to USC last year.
With the Trojans, Ingram put together his best collegiate season, rushing for 911 yards and five touchdowns. With Texas, Ingram was productive on the ground, rushing for 853 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. In the shortened 2020 season, Ingram played in six games, starting in only three.
Ronnie Rivers
At Fresno State, Rivers set the school's all-time record in receiving yards, was third all-time in rushing yards, and is the Bulldogs' record holder for most career touchdowns. But this didn’t help Rivers find a team on draft night. Instead, the rookie signed as an undrafted free agent this offseason.
Rivers' father, Ron Rivers, was also an undrafted free agent and spent six seasons in the league. It is a path that his son will hope to replicate on a team with tough competition at the position.
T.J. Pledger
Pledger joins Rivers as two undrafted rookies on this year's roster. Pledger played two seasons at Oklahoma before heading west to play at Utah. With the Utes, Pledger put up his best season, rushing for 674 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Pledger reunites with former teammates Kyler Murray and Marquise Brown who were teammates at Oklahoma. 


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