Running back Jonathan Dwyer makes a play in practice this week.
Coach Bruce Arians wants to ramp up the touches for Andre Ellington after his impressive 2013 debut, but even as the second-year back becomes a focal point of the offense, there is still playing time available behind him.
Stepfan Taylor got his first NFL taste as a rookie last year, carrying the ball 36 times for 115 yards in relief of Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall. Jonathan Dwyer rushed 49 times for 197 yards for the Steelers and was added in free agency.
While Taylor has been running ahead of Dwyer in training camp, Arians said it is not a competition for the backup role.
Instead, both will be used based on their strengths.
"We have all the confidence in the world in Stepfan and Jonathan," Arians said. "Jonathan had a big, long run (Tuesday) and Stef did an unbelievable job in pass protection. It's an ongoing thing, and we'll use them both. We won't really have a two and a three. They'll have roles and go into games with roles so everybody knows exactly what to expect. And when your number's called to increase your role, you better be ready."
Ellington has missed the past two practices with a minor neck injury – he is expected back Friday after Thursday's off day – which has given the backups more snaps. Arians was impressed by the running game on Tuesday, which is no small feat against the league's top-rated rushing defense from a year ago.
Taylor played with the first unit both days, but he said no matter the situation, the focus doesn't change.
"I'm a competitor so I'm always going for the top spot," Taylor said. "I'm always going to play my heart out. That's just how I am."
While the running backs may have more specific roles when the regular season comes, for now they are trying to stay as multi-dimensional as possible, carrying the ball while also working on pass protection and receiving in various drills.
"We have to get our feet wet and get used to playing together," Dwyer said. "Once the season starts, those things will come into play, but right now we're just trying to make ourselves better. Compete, but encourage each other. I'm trying to be the veteran in the room, help everybody and be a leader."
CARDINALS TO GET UPDATED ON RULES
NFL officials will be at Cardinals training camp this weekend to show players a video which highlights rules changes and new points of emphasis for the 2014 season.
One area that will be watched more closely will be the contact between receivers and defensive backs. If the quarterback is in
the pocket and a defensive back initiates contact beyond five yards, referees won't be shy to throw their flags, which is an adjustment for defenders used to playing a certain way.
"Sometimes it's just in our nature," safety Rashad Johnson said. "It's an offensive game and we try to get as much as we can. It's something we're working on right now, but we'll be just fine."
Grabbing a jersey, whether it impedes a wide receiver's path or not, is another area which will be scrutinized, and Arians has driven that particular point home to his players.
"It used to be the quarterback would have to look your way," Arians said. "Now the quarterback can be looking over here (away from the receiver) and it's defensive holding. We're on that hard right now and coaching it up."
There is one rule clarification, which makes hands to the face a penalty if there is "direct and forcible contact" to the neck, head or face of an opponent. Last year, there would be no penalty unless the head was pinned back or the contact was prolonged. It applies to both the offense and defense.
"Guys were just jacking them up and pulling them back," Arians said. "There's no room in the game for that."
BROWN FINE AFTER LEAVING PRACTICE EARLY
Wide receiver John Brown missed the last portion of practice with a right leg injury. He had his hamstring wrapped in ice on the field but said it's not serious and will be back Friday.
"It just kind of cramped up," Brown said.