Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (38) is tackled by Oakland Raiders cornerback Keith McGill (39) during the third quarter of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington (38) runs against Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack during the second half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
TEMPE, Arizona — Andre Ellington wasn't in a walking boot, and that's not been the case most Wednesdays this season.
Since he injured his left foot just before the first game, the Cardinals have had to nurse the dynamic young running back through a week of practice then turn him loose on Sundays.
Ellington, his foot heavily taped, has not missed a game, and his latest was his best yet.
In Arizona's 24-13 win over Oakland last Sunday, he carried 24 times for 88 yards and caught six passes for 72 yards, becoming the fifth player in franchise history with at least 80 yards rushing and 70 yards receiving in the same game.
In just his second season, Ellington has become the lynchpin for most everything Arizona does on offense.
"There isn't another guy in the league like him," quarterback Carson Palmer said, "maybe a Jamaal Charles-type guy, which there aren't many of him. He's got that ability in the pass game and the run game, the ability to go the distance, the ability to run between the tackles. He does a lot for us and he can do it all."
The Cardinals should be grateful that in the 2013 draft combine, Ellington — a speedster at Clemson — injured his hamstring, resulting in a slow 40-yard time. Maybe it was that or his relatively slight stature, but Ellington slid to late in the sixth round, where Arizona made him the 187th player selected overall.
Ellington burst onto the scene midway through his rookie season, rushing for 157 yards against Atlanta, including an 80-yard touchdown run. But coach Bruce Arians points to a contest in Week 15 as the one that let him know he had a player he could build an offense around.
"Probably the Tennessee game," Arians said, "when he really flashed running and catching. That was probably his best receiving game. You knew there was a great future there."
In that game, Ellington gained 71 yards in 10 carries and caught four passes for 87 yards.
While scouts may have wondered if Ellington could succeed, he said he never did.
"I didn't have any doubts," he said. "It's football at the end of the day. I'm doing what I love to do, just going out there and playing football."
With Arizona off to a 5-1 start, Ellington leads the team in yards rushing (393) and receptions (25).
"It's been phenomenal," Palmer said. "He's been the workhorse. He's gutted it up and sucked it up and played through pain and not been able to practice every single day every week. Had to kind of work himself back into shape on Sundays, which is not easy. When he's back there each week, he's been in the passing game, blocking, he's been running the football, he's been 'Decoy Leroy' on some plays."
When Ellington first was injured, there were dire rumors that it was serious, that he would miss extended time.
But there he was, in the opener against San Diego, carrying 15 times for 53 yards and catching five passes for 27 yards in an 18-17 victory.
Ellington said it was a partial tendon tear and something he would just have to live with.
"I understand it's never going to feel good," he said. "It's probably not going to feel good until January or February or whenever the season is over with. I've just got to take it day by day and just try to keep it calmed down as best as I can."
So every day he is in early for treatment, then after practice he stays late for more treatment.
He was listed as limited in practice Wednesday. Usually he doesn't practice at all. So that's an encouraging sign as the team prepares for an important home game against Philadelphia on Sunday.
"It's always tough during the week," Ellington said. "But once the week's over with you get to Sunday and you go out there and just play, just have fun doing what you love to do."
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