Cardinals running back Andre Ellington dashes for a 35-yard gain in the second quarter of the 31-10 preseason loss to the Raiders on Friday.
Andre Ellington has the pure talent to be a starting running back in the NFL, but with a long injury history and the emergence of David Johnson, that won't be his role for the Cardinals in 2016.
Instead he will be a change-of-pace complement, an elusive athlete with home run capability. That was on display in Friday night's 31-10 loss to the Raiders, as Ellington had three carries for 41 yards and a touchdown, including a 35-yard scamper in the second quarter.
Although it seems like a lifetime ago, Ellington was the projected starter heading into the 2015 season. A knee sprain and other ailments took their toll, but now he feels healthy and looks explosive.
Many fans are interested to see how a healthy Ellington can impact this year's team, and they're not alone.
"I'm curious to see myself," Ellington said.
Johnson's growth could be a blessing for Ellington, who at 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds may not be suited for bellcow running back duties. Despite various injuries, Ellington was able to carry the ball 45 times for 289 yards and three touchdowns in 2015, a 6.4 yards-per-carry average.
He wasn't used much down the stretch as Ellington admitted he was never fully healthy, but he has been impressive in training camp and the first preseason game.
"To see Dre really pull away and explode and see that explosiveness that he's been struggling with for so long with the foot injury he's had and the knee injury he had last year, just to see him kind of bounce one and see that speed again was good," quarterback Carson Palmer said.
While Ellington's three seasons with the team have been a tease at times, he's no longer counted on to carry the running game. David Johnson had three rushes for 31 yards against the Raiders, Chris Johnson is a reliable veteran and Kerwynn Williams is a nice option if he can squeeze his way onto the team.
Despite all of that talent, Ellington is too good to sit on the bench provided he is healthy.
"If I'm him, I want to be the starter and let the coach judge how much I get," coach Bruce Arians said. "I know this – every time he touches the ball, it has the potential to go to the house."
Ellington has stay even-keeled throughout his turbulent NFL career. He was the exciting second banana as a rookie, then the unquestioned starter, and now a third-stringer, but has never complained publicly about the reduced role.
No matter how many touches Ellington gets, he's aiming to make the most of them.
"It feels good just to get out there and feel free once again," he said.
Images from the Cardinals' first preseason game against the Raiders on Friday night