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Two At A Time At Running Back

Bruce Arians wants to use two-back sets to create mismatches


Cardinals running backs David Johnson (left) and Andre Ellington could see the field together in 2016.

Bruce Arians smiled and rapped his knuckles on the press conference podium after a recent offseason practice.

The Cardinals coach is an inventive play-caller, and since his arrival in Arizona, he's always wanted a pair of running backs together in the backfield in certain situations.

Injuries have shelved the plan every year, but Arians has revived the idea again this offseason. He knows having two of David Johnson, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington on the field at the same time could be a matchup advantage, and Arians is knocking on wood in hopes it finally happens.

"We've been doing this for three years with Andre and whoever, to have a two-back package," Arians said. "And we've never been able to get both of them to the field healthy, but we're going to continue with the package because they all bring such dynamic passing game stuff, and obviously they can run."

David Johnson and Ellington are natural pass-catchers, and for the smaller Ellington, especially, it could be a natural fit in 2016. Ellington had an 81-yard touchdown catch against the Broncos in 2014 on a wheel route when he beat a linebacker, and envisions a similar role this year.

"Dave and myself, we have a special talent, and that's being able to catch and being able to run routes," Ellington said. "It's a gift that we both have, and I'm excited that I have it, because being my size, it takes off a lot of the pounding that I take carrying the ball."

It could also be the easiest way to playing time for Ellington, who is expected to be third on the depth chart if all the running backs are healthy.

"He still brings a lot of explosiveness to our offense," Arians said. "We'll definitely get him in there. Now, how many touches he gets, it's going to depend on how all three of them are playing."

The Cardinals were effective running the ball last season, but it was primarily with each running back taking turns in one-back formations. Ellington was the expected starter but only held that role for two quarters before hurting himself in the season opener against the Saints.

Chris Johnson was a revelation and was near the top of the NFL in rushing before a small leg fracture ended his season in Week 11. David Johnson took over after that and proved his burst of success early in the year translated to a full workload.

All three are back, and David Johnson was so impressive that he's expected to get the lion's share of the work, but Chris Johnson and Ellington have skill-sets which could help the offense. This year, it could be two at a time.

"When I first came here, that's something B.A. told me he wanted to do," Chris Johnson said. "It started off with me getting here late (in training camp), then Andre getting hurt early and me getting hurt. It was hard to get two of us on the field at one time, but that's something we've really been working hard on.

"I think we're going to do a lot of that this year. They can put us in the game, have any of us play either position, and make it a mismatch."

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