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Stepfan Taylor adds name to Arizona Cardinals’ running back mix

TEMPE, Ariz. — Andre Ellington may be getting all the love, but he did not receive all the carries Sunday in the Arizona Cardinals’ 27-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

With veteran starter Rashard Mendenhall sidelined due to a bad toe it was actually Stepfan Taylor, the team’s fifth-round pick out of Stanford, who picked up the slack, tallying 38 yards on 14 carries.

The rookie duo combined to gain 192 yards in what was easily the team’s best rushing effort of the season.

“It’s a real nice 1-2 punch,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said about the rookies. “Steph is a pounder and a grinder, and loves it, and a good pass blocker. They both have great hands.

“Andre, he has so many different speeds, but he also has those great hands. It’s fun to develop those guys.”

Just eight games into rookie seasons that have not exactly set the NFL on fire, it is certainly premature to declare the two will be the league’s next great backfield combination. However, in time, Taylor may develop into the thunder to Ellington’s lightning.

The early success, though, comes as no shock to Taylor.

“I think him and I both came in with a lot of confidence that we can play,” Taylor said, adding he first met Ellington at the Senior Bowl where the two competed and grew to respect each other. “Everybody comes in competing like we’re the starter, so getting on the field, that’s what we’ve all been practicing for.

“You’ve got to embrace that opportunity, but we’ve got to play our role that the coaches have for us and when our name is called we’ve got to go out there and make plays.”

It would appear there is room for both in the team’s offensive game plan, as they each bring different skills to the table. Ellington’s style may be flashier, but Taylor’s is also effective.

“He’s a tough guy in between the tackles and he can make those big runs as well,” Ellington said of his teammate.

Arians noted that it’s rare for rookies to be contributing so early in the season, adding that a team usually cannot count on first-year players until around Thanksgiving. However, the Cardinals have needed and received production, especially from the running backs.

As the Cardinals head into their bye week, the running back situation is somewhat in flux. Arians said Mendenhall would likely resume his role as the starter once healthy, adding Ellington’s role is not likely to change, either.

Alfonso Smith and Ryan Williams are also on the roster, though the former has only received 18 carries on the season and the latter has yet to be active for a game. The backfield would seem to belong to Mendenhall and Ellington, with Taylor continuing to carve out a role.

“We’ve got a good group of guys, and I don’t think you can have enough of them because in a blink they could all be gone,” he said of his running backs. “I knew we had a good group — it’s becoming a very strong point of our offensive football team right now.”