Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 10/24/12
TEMPE, Ariz. Its easy to wrap your arms around LaRod Stephens-Howling. Hes only 5-feet-7, he was a late, seventh-round pick out of Pittsburgh in 2009 (240th overall), and he has perhaps the most appropriate and affection-inspiring nickname in the NFL: The Hyphen. I know the fans really appreciate what I do, Stephens-Howling said. I was the underdog, and I guess people wrap themselves around the underdog. I came in here and just did everything I was asked to do. On Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, that meant being the feature back with the clubs top two backs on the depth chart, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, still out with injuries. Stephens-Howling responded in a big way, rushing for a career-high 104 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in a 21-14 loss. He also caught four passes for 45 yards. He was a warrior, coach Ken Whisenhunt said. He was tough. He ran the ball well. At this point, if it requires him to carry the ball that many times a game, then thats what we have to go with. But there is a big qualifier embedded in Whisenhunts statement one Stephens-Howling has heard for the past four seasons. Going forward, weve got to rotate those guys, Whisenhunt said, mentioning William Powell and even Alfonso Smith as the Cardinals prepare for Monday night's home game against San Francisco. I dont think were going into a game thinking LaRod is going to get all the carries. There is a practical reality behind Whisenhunts statement. Stephens-Howling has special-teams duties, including kick returns, that the Cardinals would like him to resume once Wells returns to the lineup -- possibly late next month. But theres also Stephens-Howlings size to factor in when subjecting him to a weekly pounding. Think of him as Toyota Prius on the road with a bunch of SUVs. No matter how tough that Prius is, and no matter how good its safety features are, its still going to lose in repeated battles with the bigger SUVs. As every highway safety test will tell you, weight matters. Im so tired of that assumption, Stephens-Howling said. I have to hear it every time. I just want to be a running back. I dont know what else to say about that. Stephens-Howling has done his best to alter that perception. He put on weight in the offseason and has nearly bulked back up to that training camp weight of 185 pounds despite the rigors of the season. When he weighed in last Friday, he said he weighed 184 and he insists he wasnt wearing heavy chains. My girlfriends cooking at home, he said. Its good weight. Desserts every once in a while, but you always need those to keep you going. That dogged effort and, yes, his size, make Stephens-Howling a favorite in the locker room. Whenever hes needed, he always answers the call and executes the way he needs to when youre the starting running back, fullback Anthony Sherman said. Hes smaller than everyone else, but hes got one of the biggest hearts on the field. Stephens-Howling said he felt great after the Vikings game. I feel a little beat up, but thats how you want to feel after a game because you feel like youve been in the game, he said. I felt like that when we played Seattle the last game of (last) season and I had a bunch of carries. Small evidence notwithstanding, Stephens-Howling will probably never escape the educated belief that he cant be an every-down back. But its hard to begrudge the pint-sized, seventh-round pick for continuing to fight that perception. Maybe one day Ill be able to escape it, he said. Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter
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