Cardinals running back-turned-wide-receiver Andre Ellington goes through receiver reps this week during Phase 2 work.
Andre Ellington as wide receiver – it's something that was suggested almost as soon as he arrived in Arizona as a sixth-round running back.
"If he really wanted to dedicate himself in the offseason … he could be a team's No. 2 receiver, without a doubt," quarterback Carson Palmer said after a game against the Titans in Ellington's rookie season of 2013.
That chance has arrived. It may not be to be the team's No. 2 receiver, with guys like John Brown and J.J. Nelson around, but after starting his career in the backfield, the Cardinals have moved Ellington to wideout.
"(Bruce Arians) felt like I had a skillset and I could actually get out there and play it," Ellington said.
Groundwork for the move was laid late last season. Ellington finished the year sitting in wide receivers meetings and working at the position. When Ellington, a free agent, ended up re-signing with the team on a one-year contract, "it was like, 'All right, let's see what he can do in the spring,' " Ellington said.
As a running back, Ellington's carries have dwindled from 118 and 201 his first two seasons to 48 and then just 34 last year.
In limited (150) offensive snaps for 2016, Ellington had 12 receptions for 85 yards. He has 112 catches for 999 yards in his career, with some notable down-the-field receptions – an 81-yard wheel route for a touchdown in Denver in 2014, a nifty 38-yard seam route in the aforementioned game in Tennessee as a rookie.
The Cardinals are only in Phase 2 work until next week, meaning Ellington still hasn't lined up against a defense. But the potential is there, with Palmer noting Ellington's fluidity and ability to run routes with the right angle and bend.
"Everything changes when he's got to line up and there are 11 guys across the ball and he, post-snap, has to make
decisions," Palmer said after Tuesday's workout. "That's difficult. But he runs really good routes, and the thing that really excites me is, once he gets the ball in his hands, what is he going to do with it? He's not a receiver, he's a running back when he has the ball in his hands."
Ellington said he feels he has route-running down by technique, not tipping his plans and being sharp in his cuts. The next step is understanding the "hots" and "sights" (adjustments as a pass catcher if the defense blitzes) that come with being a slot receiver.
Whether there will be a full transformation at the position is yet to be determined, even by Ellington. He doesn't plan on changing uniform numbers, regardless -- "38 special," he says with a smile – and the Cardinals' wide receivers group has a lot of options already, with Brown, Nelson, Larry Fitzgerald, Jaron Brown, Jeremy Ross, Brittan Golden and rookie Chad Williams, among others.
Still, Ellington is confident his work at the position could at least increase his use.
"I'm just trying to make myself more valuable so whenever Coach calls on me, he can put me wherever," Ellington said.
Images from the second week of Phase 2 on-field work