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Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington bulks up in anticipation of harder hits this season

LISTEN: Andre Ellington- Cardinals running back

As a rookie, Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington averaged 5.5 yards per rush — the NFL’s best mark among RBs with at least 100 carries.

That feat was a surprise to those who knew little to nothing about the Cardinals’ sixth-round 2013 draft pick, but not Ellington himself.

“Coming into the year, a lot of people didn’t expect me to do what I did. Only me. I believed that I could have the success I had,” Ellington said Friday on the Bickley and Marotta show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “But it was a long work in process, and I took it day by day and I learned as much as I can from the coaches and from former players and older players on the team, and just kind of took it and ran with it.”

As a backup last season, Ellington racked up 652 yards on the ground to go with 371 yards on 39 receptions. With the offseason retirement of Rashard Mendenhall, the Cardinals’ feature RB for most of last year, Ellington is expected to be the team’s No. 1 guy in 2014.

Since he’s no longer floating under the radar of opposing defenses, Ellington said he’s used the offseason to bulk up in order to be “physically ready for that pounding” that he’s likely to take this year, and which he began to take toward the end of his rookie campaign.

“I started noticing that late in the season when we started playing those (NFC West) teams for the second time around,” he said. “But I’ve just got to keep my head on a swivel, man — just make sure I don’t take those cheap shots because they probably want to take me out of the game.

“Last year, a lot of guys tried to do things under the pile. They tried to twist my ankle — or when I’m downfield, not getting the ball, just on the back side of the play, they’re pushing me or talking to me and trying to get in my head.

“But I just stay relaxed. I usually do some of the talking myself just to keep me calm so I can focus on the next play.”

Ellington said his collegiate career — he accrued 2,519 all-purpose yards in his senior season at Clemson — prepared him for the nastiness he’ll experience at the professional level.

“It’s more physical because guys are a lot bigger and faster, but I feel like I took more pounding in college than I did in the NFL, or that I will take in the NFL,” he said. “You get hit in practice in college, too. In the NFL, guys are a lot smarter on defense. We don’t really tackle at all. The only thing is it’s a longer season (in the NFL).”

In terms of wins and losses, the NFC West was the NFL’s best division in 2013. Ellington knows things aren’t likely to get any easier this season.

“It’s going to be another tough year for us. We can’t take any team in our conference for granted,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we want to be the team that’s victorious at the end of the season. We want to be the NFC champions, and we’ve got to do whatever it takes, and in order to do that, we’ve got to beat those (NFC West) teams early on, and beat them the second time around, as well.”

Ellington said the Cardinals have the ability to improve upon last season’s 10-6 record thanks to the amount of offensive weapons at their disposal.

“The success for our offense — the sky’s the limit for it, man,” he said. “We’ve got guys that can make plays all over the field. We’ve got some other (running) backs that can actually make plays, as well. A lot of people don’t mention those guys, but they can do it just as well as I can.

“(We have to) just build off of last year and continue to get better. I’m not a guy that’s really big into personal stats. I’m a team guy, so whatever I do on the field, as long as it’s helping us win games, I’m all for it.”