Running back Andre Ellington tries to break loose of a tackle in the season finale against the 49ers.
The offseason and time off is underway, but Andre Ellington is in the training room getting treatment on his knee.
The running back, who came off a dynamic and impressive rookie season, won't need surgery (even if, he acknowledges now, he was worried he tore his ACL that frightening Thanksgiving practice.) He probably could get away with not getting worked on at all right now.
"I'm getting rehabbed up because there is nothing else to do," Ellington said with a smile.
That's not entirely true. Ellington also wants to prep his body for the offseason to come, put on a little more weight and be able
to go full speed when the Cardinals return to the field officially in late April. If 2013 proved anything, it's that Ellington will be a major part of the offense going forward as both runner and receiver.
"He's just scraping the surface," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "As the season went on the kind of hit that rookie wall as he got into the grind. For him to have a whole year under his belt, a whole year of training as a professional, a year in the offense, who knows what Bruce can do for him?"
Ellington was a little of everything for the Cardinals. The sixth-round draft pick, who missed a game because of that knee sprain that thankfully wasn't worse, cracked 1,000 total yards running and receiving, with 652 on the ground (averaging 5.5 yards a carry) and 371 on 39 receptions (9.5 yards per touch.)
He is already a proven playmaker. The knocks on him as a purely straight-line runner looked ill-informed at best when Ellington constantly turned handoffs trapped in the backfield into big gains by his whippet-quick slides outside.
It's the receiving part of the game that may hold the most intrigue, however.
"He is such a mismatch," coach Bruce Arians said. "If he is your running back and he's matched up on safeties and linebackers, he can really improve in that area. It's something that he's never done, and he got better and better all year."
Yes, Ellington caught some passes out of the backfield in his life, but lining up as a receiver? Arians was not exaggerating. Not only had Ellington not done it, but various issues during camp prevented Ellington from practicing it at all before the week of practice prior to the opener in St. Louis.
"Come Week One, (Arians) said, 'You're going to run a couple slants, I'm going to run you wide,' " Ellington said. "I was like,
'Alright.' I tried to learn the plays, and I started seeing my role increase from there. I started thinking, 'Maybe I can do this.'
"It wasn't easy. But it was kind of natural. It's weird. I watch some of the receivers and how they run their routes."
Ellington leaned on rookie receiver Jaron Brown, who was Ellington's college teammate at Clemson, to help him with the plays and technical nature of the wide receiver position. He was tremendously effective, and that was even with his inexperience.
"He doesn't know he's running into danger sometimes," Arians said. "He's just out there seeing if he can catch it."
Ellington would like to run it more too. That was another constant storyline of his season.
"Um, I would," Ellington said, hesitant to make a big deal about his carries. "Why wouldn't I? I just want the opportunities to make plays, regardless of handoffs or catching the ball."
Arians made it clear he didn't want his new weapon beat up, and even with that caution, Ellington ended up with enough nicks to slow him at the end of the season. He sprained his ankle late in the year, and he admitted he was favoring the knee he hurt on Thanksgiving.
At least it wasn't serious, however. Ellington hurt it making a cut, and "I know ACL (injuries) can happen from making a cut," he said. "So I was a little freaked out."
He's not freaked out anymore. Surgery isn't needed. Now it's about building his body so he can be an even bigger factor in 2014.
Besides, "there's nothing else to do," Ellington reiterated. "I'll get these minor nicks so I'll be ready to work."