TEMPE, Ariz. — Andre Ellington is the Arizona Cardinals’ starting running back.
The second-year pro out of Clemson emerged last season, gaining 652 yards and three touchdowns on just 118 carries while catching 39 passes for 371 yards and a score.
While Rashard Mendenhall led the team in carries and rushing yards, by the end of the season there was really no debating who the team’s featured back was.
And as the Cardinals continue with OTAs here in late May, there are no mind games being played, misinformation being spread or battles brewing.
Ellington will be the starter in 2014, and not part of a committee with Stepfan Taylor, Jonathan Dwyer or any other running back on the roster.
“It gives me a lot more responsibilities, that’s why I’m in my playbook constantly trying to learn and trying to pick up on things that I did wrong last year to try and get better as a player,” Ellington said of his status as the lead back.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has noticed a change in Ellington’s mindset now that he’s the guy.
“He’s always had a lot of confidence, that’s what I like about him. He’s got that great smile and he can run real fast. That’s a good combination,” he said with a smile. “He’s got a little more swagger. He had success in the National Football League, and that gives you some. It’s better to earn it than to talk about it.”
In today’s NFL, being the “number one back” means different things for different teams. For some, the title means no one else on the roster will get more than a handful of snaps per game. For others, like last season’s Cardinals, it is really more of a title than an indication of a player’s role with the team.
The plan is for Ellington to be part of the first group, helping to elevate a rushing attack that has finished 23rd, 32nd, 24th, 32nd and 28th in rushing yards over the last five seasons.
“I would love to get him 25 to 30 every game,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday when asked how many touches he’s envisioning for the former sixth-round pick.
For some context, the Eagles’ LeSean McCoy led all running backs in 2013 with 366 touches, or just under 23 per game.
Last season, the most times Ellington touched the ball in a single game was 17, which he did twice.
Besides the time it took for the coaching staff to get comfortable enough with Ellington and, in turn, Ellington comfortable with facing NFL defenses, the team often talked about it being best to limit the 5-foot-9, 199-pound back’s touches in order to keep him fresh and healthy.
But with little in the way of a proven option after him (Taylor and Dwyer have combined for 1,086 rushing yards and two touchdowns while the fourth running back spot is still up for grabs), it’s clear the team’s tune has changed a bit.
Now it’s going to be all Ellington, all the time.
“Of course,” Ellington said when asked if he thinks he will be able to handle the pounding that comes with the role he’s expected to have. “My goal is just to go out there and not take those big hits and just kind of get down when I’m supposed to. And not get hit at all, but it’s football, you’re going to get tackled, but I do my best to avoid those.”