GLENDALE, Ariz. — Typically, the spotlight does not shine on a sixth-round draft pick.
But Andre Ellington is no ordinary sixth-round talent.
Head coach Bruce Arians has expressed a desire to get the ball in Ellington’s hands 25 to 30 times a game, while quarterback Carson Palmer continually raves about the 25-year-old’s talents, calling the success he had a year ago “pretty rare” for a player drafted 187th overall.
Because of that success — he became only the fifth rookie in franchise history to surpass 1,000 yards from scrimmage — and the retirement of Rashard Mendenhall, Ellington enters his second NFL training camp as the No. 1 running back on the Arizona Cardinals’ roster.
“I’m very confident,” he said, surrounded by reporters. “Last year, I wasn’t aware of what my role would be on the team. But now I’ve kind of got an idea so I’m going to approach this season a lot different than I did last year.”
That began in the offseason when he added about eight to 10 pounds of muscle to his 5-foot-9, 199-pound frame.
“I bulked up my upper body a little bit (more) than I was last year,” he said. “Not too much. I didn’t want to get slow. I had to keep my speed.”
Then, there was the matter of learning all three wide receiver positions, something Ellington had never been asked to do during his four years at Clemson.
“It was a little tough at first, but as the spring went on, I got used to it,” he said, adding he sought out advice from Larry Fitzgerald and others. “As long as I can get the ball in my hands, I’ll be fine. I enjoy (playing receiver). It helps a lot. It gets me in space and that’s kind of like how I want to play. I want to play in space and (then) I don’t have to take on those hits time-after-time so I’ll take (the ball) in space all day.”
Last season, Ellington caught 39 passes for 371 yards and one touchdown. It was his performance, however, as a running back (652 yards and three touchdowns) that really opened everyone’s eyes, including Palmer’s.
“He’s so explosive. He’s so quick. His vision is so good,” Palmer said. “And then you want to put him the pass game, too, because he’s so good in the pass game that it’s hard to kind of predict, ‘well, I hope he has x-amount of yards and x-amount of catches’ because he’s so talented in both. Selfishly, I want to use him in the pass game, but selfishly I want to use him in the run game, too, because that helps us all out, too.”
None of what Ellington accomplished his rookie year surprised him — “I knew what I was capable of,” he said — yet he knows he has yet to arrive.
“Every day I remind myself I’ve got to improve. I was a sixth-rounder,” he said. “Even though I’m starting this year, but that’s nothing. I’ve got to still get better.”
Of course as Ellington’s play increases so too will the spotlight.
“I just let my play speak louder than anything,” he said. “I just go out there and handle my business. As long as I’m taking care of that part of my game, I’ll be fine. I’ll get that attention. It’s all good to have that attention, but at the end of the day, if you don’t put in the work on the field, you won’t have it.”