By: Ed Cole
“Next Man Up” is a phrase you hear quite often in sports, when a player is injured and someone has to take his spot on the roster until said player is healthy and ready to compete again.
Cardinals’ running back Stepfan Taylor is literally taking that to heart, as he’s been practicing with the first team offense for the past two practices, as running back Andre Ellington is dealing with a minor neck injury.
Ellington is expected to return to practice on Friday, as the Cardinals are taking a much-deserved day off on Thursday.
Regardless of what happens once Ellington returns, Taylor’s focus remains a constant.
“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.”
Right now, Taylor is fighting it out with Jonathan Dwyer for the featured big-back role in head coach Bruce Arians’ offense. Taylor got some work in last season in his rookie campaign, rushing 36 times for 115 yards in place of Ellington and Rashard Mendenhall.
This year, the running back corps is a little different, with Mendenhall gone and Dwyer in, but the change in personnel hasn’t diminished Taylor’s feelings about what the Cardinals offense can do.
“It’s exciting to see this offense come together from spring, especially at the end of the season last year,” Taylor said. “We know we can be a great offense [if] everything’s clicking.”
“We have a lot of great players that can provide their talents to this offense, so [the] sky’s the limit,” Taylor said.
Last season was more of a learning process for everyone in the Cardinals organization. Bruce Arians and his staff were on board in their first season. They had to get the feel for their players and vice versa and make everything click, and click is what they did, going 10-6 and falling just short of the playoffs.
Taylor believes Season Two under Arians will be completely different, summing it all up in one word: confidence.
“Confidence is the biggest thing,” Taylor said. “If you’re not confident, you’re not gonna play fast.”
“Everybody’s out there playing fast, trusting each other and playing football,” Taylor said. “Everyone’s eliminating mental errors, going out there on the field playing fast and making big plays.”
Confidence is a funny thing. It’s contagious if everyone is willing to accept it and buy into the concept, which Taylor feels he has. He can already see it paying dividends on the field.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost,” Taylor said. “I try to shop for consistency, so I go out here every day, eliminating mistakes and control what I can control and show [the] coaches that I’m ready, so that ‘s what I’m striving for.”
Taylor and the rest of the running backs have the fortunate and unfortunate task of going up against the No.1 ranked rush defense from a year ago in practice every day.
Taylor calls the experience “crazy good.”
“Going against them every day is only making us better,” Taylor said. “They know our plays sometimes and we gotta be able to adjust to that.”
“That’s helping us out, because [when] game time comes around, we’ve seen everything for the most part,” Taylor said.
The fight for the 53-man roster will continue until the final cut down day comes. Until then, Taylor and the rest of the running backs will continue to push each other to the limits, which can only be of benefit to everyone involved.
“We’re all competitors,” Taylor said. “I think that’s the biggest thing, we’re all out there competing with each other and nobody’s selfish.”
“It’s a tight group,” Taylor said. “We’re all joking around with each other, but when it’s time to go to work, we go out there and work.”