Second-year running back Andre Ellington was a big surprise in 2013, becoming the top offensive playmaker for the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. In 2014, there will be the burden of expectations, but he is ready for it.
Last season, head coach Bruce Arians was reluctant to give Ellington a full load, saying his thin frame should keep him at about 30-35 snaps per game.
However, things have changed. Ellington enters 2014 as the clear starter. Arians has already said (somewhat jokingly) that he would like to get Ellington 20 carries and 10 catches every game, which seems ridiculous.
But he more or less held to that total number when asked about it after OTAs on Tuesday.
"I would like to get him 25-30 every game, depending on how many passes we can get to him," he said to reporters. "It’s easy to hand it to him, but it's throwing it to him where he’s really dynamic. As the season progresses, it will depend on how they treat him as a receiver or a running back."
Ellington knows that his role will increase and is preparing for it.
When he was asked about what he expects his role to be, he said, "I'm going to have a lot more (snaps), a lot more plays. So it's a lot more I have to learn and I have to be in the best shape so I can be full speed on every play and just eliminate injuries and things like that."
Arians emphasized how dynamic Ellington is in the passing game, but Ellington doesn't care how he gets the ball.
"I'm just happy when I get the ball in my hands," he said. "Whether it's a handoff or a pass, the quicker the better. It will give me a lot more opportunities to make plays. I want a few passes I can catch down the field. That's an easier touchdown."
He knows that taking care of his body on the field is just as important as off the field. He said that he has to "just kind of get down like you're supposed to and not get hit at all. But it's football, you know you're going to get tackled, but I'll try my best to avoid those."
Is he in shape? "I'm in great shape," he said, laughing at the question.
Ellington is also ready to be a leader. When asked if he was going to be the leader in the running back room, he said, "of course." When Jonathan Dwyer was brought up, he backed down a bit by clarifying, "We're going to lead each other." Rashard Mendenhall was the clear leader in the room last year and now Ellington is ready to take over.
It is part of that increased swagger Ellington has, according to Bruce Arians.
"He’s always had a lot of confidence," Arians said about Ellington. "That’s what I like about him. He’s got that great smile and he can run real fast. That’s a good combination. He’s got a little more swagger. He’s had success in the National Football League and that gives you some. It’s better to earn it than to talk about it."
Ellington is bigger, stronger, has more swagger and is ready to be a leader. He also knows more.
"Last year I kind of knew what I was doing, but I didn't understand what I was doing," he said. "Here, I can kind of understand why I'm doing things and make adjustments as the game goes on."
What should all that combine to lead to? "Hopefully we can light scoreboard up and win some games."