The Arizona Cardinals selected two running backs late in the 2013 NFL Draft, and as the season approached, it was anybody’s game as to which of them would earn more playing time.
Before long, Cardinals coaches chose to feature sixth-round pick Andre Ellington more often in the backfield, and fifth-round draftee Stepfan Taylor was pushed back on the depth chart.
But Rashard Mendenhall retired after the season at the age of 26, opening up bigger opportunities for both Ellington and Taylor.
Taylor spoke with Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Tuesday and talked about how he is likely to play a bigger part in the team’s offense in his second season.
“I’m expecting more of a role this year,” he said. “I always have that same mentality as preparing myself and competing as I’m a starter, so that hasn’t changed a bit. But this time, I just want to eliminate more mistakes. I always prided myself on being a consistent player, so I’ve got to consistently do the right things.
The 5-foot-9, 216-pound running back got just 36 handoffs in his rookie season, turning those into 115 yards and six first downs. The Stanford alum also put in his dues on Cardinals special teams, but he talked Tuesday about how he dealt with being used so infrequently on offense as a rookie.
“Coming out here last season, I was just controlling what I control, being prepared,” Taylor said. “And when my name was drawn, just go out there and show coaches that I can go out there and play.
“But this year, same mentality — just more is expected of me this year.”
With Mendenhall retired, the 23-year-old Taylor will also have an opportunity to become the go-to guy in short-yardage situations, as he is the bigger back than the 199-pound Ellington.
Taylor pointed out a key for Arizona’s offense in 2014, echoing a similar goal he said he has for himself.
“We know we need to just have consistency — eliminate mental errors,” he said. “And only sky’s the limit if that’s going out there. I’m very excited for this offense to see what we can do.
“Everybody’s out here confident, and it’s trusting each other that’s the biggest thing for a team to want to go through the next level.”
The second-year back also discussed what it was like to get his feet wet in the NFL alongside fellow rookie Ellington, saying they both approach the game similarly.
“We were always competing with each other,” Taylor said. “We want to see this team rise and succeed. So there’s no selfishness between each other. We both want to get on the field and just go out there and compete, and we both feel that we have great talent and can do so.”
Even after he had been drafted by Arizona, Taylor had some work to finish on the academic front, as he aimed to complete a degree in information science and technology in society, according to the Star-Telegram. He stayed behind at Stanford for a few weeks after the draft and missed Cardinals OTAs, which arguably gave Ellington, 25, a leg up in the running back race.
The Arlington, Texas, native said he called Ellington during that time about playbook questions and to see what he missed during team meetings.
“Coming in with Andre, it made things a lot easier, because it was two of us, and we were trying to learn the same plays at the same time,” Taylor said. “Going through OTAs and things this year, I realized I missed a lot — things that I know could’ve helped me coming in. But I had to just come in, pick it up and be a professional.”