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Backup Plan In The Backfield

Draftees Taylor, Ellington could end up getting time running the ball


Rookie running backs Stepfan Taylor (30) and Andre Ellington (38) at rookie minicamp this weekend.

Ryan Williams understood.

"If I was a coach and I was a GM and I had a running back that had a near career-ending injury and another running back who is coming off an ACL and hadn't quite been the same since that injury, I'd take some backs," the Cardinals' running back said.

The Cardinals still have Williams, the 2011 second-round draft pick who has played in just four games in two years because of major injuries. They signed veteran Rashard Mendenhall, who has yet to prove his effectiveness after tearing his ACL in 2011.

So the team did take some backs. They got durable banger Stepfan Taylor from Stanford in the fifth round of this year's draft, and Clemson's Andre Ellington with one of their sixth-round picks. What kind of impact those two will have on the depth chart is still a long way from being known.

They could have an impact, though. Taylor in particular is the kind of back some think could step in right away. Low-draft pick pedigree

doesn't mean much for running backs anymore – last year, sixth-round draft pick Alfred Morris gained more than 1,600 yards for the Redskins – as the position has evolved.

The Cardinals' new backs, in the middle of the team's rookie minicamp this weekend, get that too.

"Value will be more on protecting the quarterback, so there will be offensive line and guys like that (drafted in front of running back)," Taylor said. "It shouldn't matter because once you get here, you just play and compete. You're working for that second contract too. You should know. It doesn't matter where you are picked."

Both Taylor and Ellington were praised by General Manager Steve Keim for being complete backs, able to pass protect as well as run (they can catch it too, but coach Bruce Arians has made plain he doesn't plan on throwing to the running backs as much.)

Whether that can translate on the field this season is yet to be determined. Mendenhall had his best years under Arians in Pittsburgh and now that he's had so much time to recover from his knee issues – plus his one-year-need-to-prove-it contract – he could be primed for a rebound season. Williams seems certain he will be effective this year, after never being certain in his knee early last season before suffering his shoulder problem.

If both come through, Taylor and Ellington won't be needed. Even if they are, they have to show they are ready.

"You really can't tell until the lights come on," Arians said. "Some were different from this morning's walkthrough to the afternoon practice. Until you turn the lights on, you really don't know about them."

Ellington is just getting started, but he too said he understands the position he plays isn't often durable. He hurt his hamstring at the Scouting combine which may have impacted his draft spot.

But now, "I'm just here to work," Ellington said. "We all have to compete. Maybe me and Stepfan out there will make those guys work even harder."

That isn't really needed for Williams, who was drafted in part because Beanie Wells was breaking down and hasn't been able to stay on the field himself. While it seems like he just got to the Cardinals, Williams now is one of the veterans Taylor and Ellington will look to for advice.

Williams is willing to give it. He understands that part of it too.

"I feel I have a lot of good insight with what I have been through, and the mindset and mentality for now, for these young guys, I feel I can be a good leader," Williams said. "I just want to help. If something goes wrong again, I will make sure these young guys can do what they have to do to help this team.

"Having a third chance with this organization, this organization means everything to me. Whatever I can do to help this team win, I'll do it. But I'm only thinking about being on the field helping the team win. That's what matters."

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