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Dealing Cards: Andre Ellington learning Larry Fitzgerald’s role

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2016, file photo, Arizona Cardinals' Andre Ellington (38) is tackled by Carolina Panthers' Leonard Johnson (23) in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C. Panthers cornerback Leonard Johnson made a big impact in his first game with Carolina last Sunday with eight tackles and a sack against the Arizona Cardinals. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn, File)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Larry Fitzgerald has yet to miss a game this season, so even though the receiver is banged up, it may be unwise to assume the Arizona Cardinals will have to make it a go without their leading pass catcher.

Even in Sunday’s 23-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers, after Fitzgerald left the field with an apparent injury at the end of the second quarter, he ended up playing on 87 percent of the team’s offensive snaps — most among receivers — and caught 12 passes for 133 yards.

After the game, 49ers cornerback Jimmie Ward told reporters Fitzgerald informed him that he tore something, and though Fitzgerald did not say anything of that sort, he did admit he’s felt better.

Fitzgerald did add he expects to be ready to play in the next game on the road against the Minnesota Vikings, and on Monday Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said his receiver is day-to-day and that he “would be shocked” if his star missed the game in his hometown.

If Fitzgerald cannot play, however, the next man up at his position may not be a receiver. In talking about Andre Ellington’s increased involvement early in Sunday’s win, Arians said they would have liked to have given him another series, but that was not doable.

“With Larry — he had practiced in Larry’s spot at receiver all week,” Arians said. “So, that gives us more depth in case Larry is hobbled.”

Now in his fourth season, Ellington is learning a new position.

“Been learning it day by day,” he said. “It’s just a different role I’m taking on right now. But I enjoy the role, and I’m going to make the best of it.”

For a running back, Ellington has shown solid ability in the passing game. He has 105 career catches for 951 yards and three touchdowns, and is an electric player with the ball in his hands. So in a lot of ways, it makes sense that the team would at least experiment with him in the role, if only because David Johnson is not likely to cede too many snaps at running back.

But still, there is a difference between being someone who can make plays as a receiver out of the backfield and one who can actually play the receiver position.

“It’s different, just because you’ve got a guy pretty much running with you the whole time,” Ellington said. “As opposed to running routes off linebackers, now you’re running them off DBs. It’s a little bit of a different feel, but it’s an adjustment I can make.”

Even if the 5-foot-9, 199-pound Ellington gets the hang of playing Fitzgerald’s role, there is no chance he could replicate what the 6-foot-3, 218-pound receiver does on a play-by-play basis. Ellington said the biggest adjustment for him would come on the timing routes, and as long as he gets his steps down he’ll be good.

Whether the Cardinals have to turn to Ellington as a receiver or not, as Arians said, working him in that spot would give the team more receiver depth, which is big since the position took a hit when Jaron Brown was lost for the season with an ACL injury.

Ellington is not sure if he will continue to get reps at receiver, but says if that is what they want him to do, he’s fine with it. Besides, that change — along with his early involvement in Sunday’s win — could be a sign that the team wants him involved in the offense.

“I assume,” he said. “But my job is just to stay ready, whenever they call on me just to be ready to go.”

Injury update

There will be no official injury report until Wednesday, though Arians said there was nothing major to report on that front Monday. As noted above he said he believes Fitzgerald will be day-to-day, and he put Alex Okafor in that same group of players who could be back at practice Wednesday or Thursday. As for safety Tyrann Mathieu, who missed Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury, the coach said he, too, is day-to-day.

“We should have everybody back for this ballgame,” he added.

Mathieu was close?

Up until Friday of last week, Arians had refused to rule Mathieu out for the game against the 49ers. Turns out, by Sunday, Mathieu was closer to being able to play than not.

“Probably about 80 percent,” Arians answered on how close the safety was to suiting up.

But, it appears Mathieu is on track to play in Minnesota, as Arians said Monday his strength is back and he will be cleared to get back on the field.

“I want to see him practice and see how he looks,” the coach said.

Mathieu injured his shoulder early in Arizona’s Week 8 loss to Carolina.

Wetzel was solid

Immediately following Sunday’s win, Arians said he couldn’t really evaluate left tackle John Wetzel’s performance but noted he didn’t notice him so that must have been a good sign.

By Monday, he had a chance to watch the film, and his impression did not change.

“In the running game, poor,” he said of his offensive line overall. “In pass protection, fairly solid. I thought John Wetzel played a really solid game. But the other guys can all play better.”

Wetzel was making his first career start at left tackle, a position he will handle now with starter Jared Veldheer on injured reserve.

In evaluating his first start, Wetzel said he needs to work on small stuff, including technique issues. But overall, the game went as expected.

“I was kind of prepared and nothing really surprised me like that,” he said.

Wetzel said he felt more comfortable as the game went on, and having a chance to play some left tackle in Carolina aided his transition.

“Once you get the first couple plays in, for me, I started to get a little comfortable, go out there, do your job and make some blocks and you start feeling a little bit more comfortable as the game keeps going,” he said. “And then you’ve just got to maintain that as the game keeps rolling.”

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