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Arizona Cardinals’ Steve Keim: Andre Ellington needs to get bigger, stronger

LISTEN: Steve Keim, AZ Cardinals GM

Just because the Arizona Cardinals have worked out a new, cap-friendly contract with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald that will keep the future Hall of Famer in the desert, don’t expect general manager Steve Keim to rest.

Keim, the architect of an 11-win team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, is very forthright about the roster spots he’d like to improve heading into free agency and the 2015 season.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that outside linebacker, to find a guy that can be a premier pass rusher and speed and athleticism at inside linebacker is a need for us,” he told Doug and Wolf Thursday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “And I think any time you can get more physical up front in the interior of the offensive line, to be able to create a sustainable run game where we can get movement at the point of attack and be more physical up front.

“But as you guys know, I don’t think there’s a position on our team where we can’t get better, whether it’s starter help or depth.”

Keim is currently in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, where workouts begin Thursday. Another position he could be looking at is running back, where the Cardinals struggled to be consistent in 2014.

Starter Andre Ellington battled injuries all year and was not nearly as effective as he was during his rookie season. In fact, he missed the Cardinals’ last five games, including their playoff loss to the Carolina Panthers.

Arizona ranked 31st in the league in rushing.

Keim still believes Ellington can be a feature back in the NFL.

“From a skill standpoint, I do,” he said. “When I went back and looked at some of the cut-ups, you can’t deny his skills — his feet, his acceleration — he’s got dynamic skills and game-changing speed. That being said, it remains to be seen whether he can stay healthy for a full season. To me, that’s why this offseason is so big for him.

“He’s got to get bigger and stronger in the weight room and he’s got to prove he can stay healthy through a full 16-game season.”

Regardless of how Ellington attacks his offseason regimen, the Cardinals do need help at the position — one Keim could address in the draft.

Arizona first pick is the 24th, and just because there hasn’t been a running back selected in the first round since 2012, Keim won’t hesitate to take one if it’s the right situation.

“Maybe there hasn’t been game-changing types of backs going in the first 15 picks of the draft,” he said. “But to me, if you consider a back to be a difference maker, a guy who can be a bell cow, I’d have no problem taking him at (no.) 24.

“If he can be that type of difference-maker and create and be dynamic in the open field and do things in the passing game for you. If he’s a complete back and he’s a difference maker, you take him and you don’t look back.”

The Cardinals have been linked to running backs in various mock drafts so far. Wisconsin star Melvin Gordon, who ran for 2,587 yards and 29 touchdowns and Georgia’s Todd Gurley, a bruising back whose season was cut short by an ACL injury, both figure to be possibilities for Keim and Arizona in April.