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At running back again, Andre Ellington knows he must ‘climb my way back up’

Arizona Cardinals unning back Andre Ellington, right, gets away from Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor (31) as he runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

TEMPE, Ariz. — And just like that, it appears the experiment of moving Andre Ellington from running back to receiver has come to an end.

“The receiver room is so deep, for him, he got all the work he needed to give us another running back/receiver-type guy that’s very versatile,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said following a mini-camp practice Wednesday. “For him, he’s going to have to make it in the running back room.”

That may be easier said than done.

Back with the running backs, Ellington is battling Kerwynn Williams, Elijhaa Penny and T.J. Logan for a spot behind starter David Johnson. He has more experience than those three, who have earned varying degrees of praise from the team’s coaches, but his track record has its share of knocks.

Since bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2013 with 652 rushing yards, 371 receiving yards and four total touchdowns, he has struggled to remain healthy and, because of that, effective.

Though he played in all 16 games last season, Ellington finished with career lows in rushing attempts, rushing yards, receptions and receiving yards while failing to reach the end zone for the first time in his NFL career.

Asked where the 5-foot-9, 199-pound Ellington can improve as a running back, Arians did not hold back.

“Run harder, run tougher like he did as a rookie,” he said. “Once he tore the foot up and the knee up a little bit, he kind of looked for places to fall down too much.”

Ellington understands the critique, admitting the balance between running hard and not wanting to get injured is a mental thing.

“I’ve just kind of got to kind of put that behind me and just focus on what’s important,” he said. “Just go out there and play loose and not really think about it.”

Ellington’s injury history is fairly extensive.

After playing 15 games as a rookie, in 2014 he suffered a foot injury in Week 1 that hampered him until a sports hernia ended his season in Week 13. Then, in the first game of the 2015 campaign, a PCL injury forced him to miss three games, and by the time he returned to the field both Chris and David Johnson had emerged as the team’s top running backs.

Once seen as the cornerstone of the team’s offense, Ellington is now fighting for a role.

“I’ve got to kind of climb my way back up,” he said. “Over the years I didn’t perform as well as I’m capable of due to injuries, but I just have to keep fighting and try to get back healthy so I can go out there and compete.”

Twenty-eight years of age and playing under a one-year contract, Ellington is confident that healthy, he will be able to show the coaches why he belongs on the team.

“That’s a no-brainer,” he said. “If I’m healthy I can go out there and play loose and not think.

“I’ve just got to do a great job at fighting, get back in shape, and once I’m in shape, stay there.”

All he wants is a chance to compete for a job, which he has. The battle will continue on into training camp, which Arians said will be big for the fifth-year pro while noting Ellington is not alone in that regard.

“For a lot of guys,” he said. “There’s a lot of competition for those last 12 spots on the roster than it’s ever been.”

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