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Pass catching is now important for Arizona Cardinals running backs

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Just two years ago, it was not something Bruce Arians thought was important for his running backs.

Who says Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians doesn't change? He has changed, at least a little bit in two seasons of being head coach and the offensive play caller.

Turn back the clock two years ago and you have this quote about his running backs and their importance to the passing game.

"They are back there because they are runners and pass protectors," Arians said. "Will we throw to the backs? Yeah. But the receivers are the ones paid to catch it. (Running backs) are helping but it's doubtful our running back leads the team in receiving."

He really downplayed the importance of catching the ball for running backs.

Then things changed, particularly with having Andre Ellington. Arians talked about having him catch the ball perhaps 10 times a game. As for a back leading the team in receiving, through 12 games last season when Ellington landed on injured reserve, the running back had the team lead in receptions, tied with Larry Fitzgerald with 46. Even missing the final four games of the season, Ellington had the fourth-most catches on the team.

Now he talks about pass catching ability of his backs as something important. He raves about Ellington's ability to play receiver. He has praised rookie David Johnson for his ability to catch the ball. The same applies to Robert Hughes.

He even has used it as a comment about something a player needs to improve at.

When asked about Kerwynn Williams and what he needs to do, Arians said, "the biggest thing for him is to improve his hands because he can catch the ball when he's out here with us (at practice), but as soon as we get in a game, he dropped some balls. His pass receiving ability is what slows him down just a bit.

What was previously downplayed is now a sticking point.

Just the other day in practice, of the 23 passes Carson Palmer completed in 11-on-11 drills, eight of them were to Ellington.

The Cardinals offense now features running backs in the passing game.

Could a running back lead the team in receiving? Probably not in yards, but if they use Ellington as much as they tried to last season, he might lead the team in catches.