GLENDALE, Ariz. – The more you can do, the more opportunities you may get and the more secure your spot on the roster becomes.
With depth at both wide receiver and running back, the Arizona Cardinals are faced with a problem, and a good one at that: How do they best maximize their talent on offense? Because right now, there’s going to be a player or two, maybe more, who doesn’t make the team, but they will be suiting up elsewhere in the NFL.
The solution is handing additional responsibilities to players.
For example, John Brown and Andre Ellington. On special teams, to help alleviate the numbers game at the receiver and running back rooms, respectively.
For Brown, it’s a role he hasn’t played.
“You better find a spot on special teams to help you, which Jaron (Brown) has always done and Britt (Brittan Golden) has always done. We will look at John Brown as a punt returner this year,” head coach Bruce Arians said, addressing the wide receiver spot specifically.
Brown, entering his third season, sounded open to the idea.
“I would definitely enjoy it,” he said. “I’m just doing whatever I have to do to help the team out. We have great returners already: Patrick Peterson, J.J. Nelson. If the team needs me back there, I’m willing to do it. Anything for the team this year. If I can make something happen, I’m willing to do it.”
Back in college, Brown excelled as a punt returner.
At Pittsburgh State, Brown returned 78 punts for 1,073 yards and three touchdowns. His 13.6 yards per return average was third-best in school history.
“He was dynamic in college,” Arians said. “At first it was Pat’s job. He’s caught punts since he’s been there. We’re going to look at him a lot harder longer this year, a long with J.J. who we brought in for that same reason. They both came in as punt return guys. We’ll have five-to-six guys always catching them just in case something drastic happened.”
The Cardinals ranked 12th in the NFC and 24th overall averaging 7.4 yards a return.
Brown is also in the mix for kickoff return, according to Arians, who added Ellington to the group, along with Nelson and Kerwynn Williams.
David Johnson handled the job last season, right up until he moved into the starting running back’s role in Week 13 at St. Louis. Following the switch, Williams found himself back near the goal line awaiting the football.
This season, with Johnson and Chris Johnson expected to see the bulk of the running back snaps, it makes sense to put Ellington back on kickoffs.
“He’s returned kickoffs before, and as dynamic as he is,” Arians said, “you’d like to look for more opportunities for him to touch the ball.”
Ellington has only one kickoff return in this three-year NFL career—for 21 yards at New Orleans, Sept. 22, 2013—but he did it extensively in his time at Clemson.
“I love it, I love it,” he said. “It gives me the opportunity to get out there and get the ball in my hands and make something happen.”
Ellington did just that as a rookie and then again in 2014, becoming one of just two players in franchise history—Ottis Anderson being the other one—to record 1,000-plus yards from scrimmage in each of their first two seasons.
The trick for Ellington, however, is to stay healthy. He’s yet to play a full 16-game schedule.
Ellington has been slowed by hip, knee, foot and toe trouble plus hernia surgery, which ended year two after 12 games when the team placed him on injured reserve.
“I’m finally feeling good. I haven’t felt this good in awhile. I just got to keep it that way, that’s the main thing with me,” he said, adding about his position as the No. 3 running back, “just motivation. It got me to the point where I am now, today, where I’m able to go out there and be healthy, finally, and contribute and compete like I wanted to even though when I was hurt I still wanted to compete but I was just kind of limited. But, now, I’m able to go out there and give it my all.”
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