Andre Ellington struck first, recording his first career touchdown on a 36-yard first quarter reception. He finished the game with 42 yards receiving and 20 yards rushing. Kerry Taylor, fresh off the practice squad, tallied three receptions for 40 yards.
The players received extensive action for different reasons. Ellington was in the game because the team sees him as an electric playmaker who can help the offense, whereas Taylor was pressed into action because of Larry Fitzgerald’s injured hamstring. Both stepped up and made big plays.
Head coach Bruce Arians is not afraid to throw his young players into the fire, as he learned during his time as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Steelers and then last season with the Indianapolis Colts that sometimes you just have to play the guys you’ve got.
“Just had to do it,” he said when asked where the willingness to turn to young players comes from. “Had to do it a lot over the past five or six years.”
Arians added that back when he was an assistant with the Steelers, the team tended to have a lot of veterans on defense with young players on offense. And since the new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for more offseason practice time with rookies than veterans, it is easier to get the rookies acclimated and ready to play sooner than before.
“As long as a guy shows me he can play football, we’ll play him,” the coach said.
That was apparent in Sunday’s 25-21 win over the Lions.
The team’s younger players were all over the box score, with some (Ellington, Taylor) making impacts on offense, and others (Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu and Justin Bethel) making their respective marks on defense and special teams.
Like with many young players, it is apparent that the raw talent is there. But the ability to play such a vital role early in their careers comes from the confidence the coaching staff has in them. And that, Ellington said, comes from showing the coaches what they can do in practice.
“It means a lot for the coaches to have that trust in me early on in my career,” Ellington said after the game. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to just go out there and show them that I deserve that.”
Taylor is in much of the same boat, because while he’s well-traveled for a 24-year-old NFL player, this is the first time he’s recorded a catch in an NFL game. He said this is the first time he’s really received a good chance from a team, and now it’s up to him to continue to prove he’s worthy of a roster spot.
But Taylor, like many of the other younger players on the team, is in the same boat there.
“We’re all trying to learn together and looking up to the veterans and asking them for advice,” Taylor said. “Just trying to learn the little things.
“We definitely help each other out throughout the game, whether it’s offense, defense or special teams. We keep each other going.”
The better things go for the team’s youth, the better the team’s prospects for the future appear. Depth is a valuable currency in the NFL, especially when it’s under the age of 25. So factor in that and, perhaps, the idea that being young is no longer considered to be a bad thing, and you have an understandable youth movement.
In the same way Arians said it’s all about what you can do, not how old you are, running back Rashard Mendenhall said there comes a point where age does not matter.
“Once you make the 53 (man roster) you’re not looked at as a rookie anymore,” the 26-year-old in his sixth NFL season said. “We need you to produce, and they’ve been able to do that.”