Rookies learn to avoid hitting wall

TEMPE, Ariz. -- After his 14th game last year at Stanford, Stepfan Taylor was done for the season.

Not so much this year. He’s already played 15.

Taylor is among the Cardinals’ rookies who have surpassed the equivalent of an entire college season -- conference championship and bowl games included -- and they still have five games to go. For some, their bodies are wondering what’s going on. For others, they’ve been able to combat the grind of what will be a 20-game season, with preseason included. And with a big win over Indianapolis last weekend, there’s a possibility for more.

“I try to take good care of my body so I don’t hit a wall,” Taylor said. “I feel fine. I know some people out here are feeling it, but I feel good. I try to do a good job of taking care of my body and make sure I stay on top of things. There’s definitely times where you’re like, ‘Alright this is way longer than a college season,’ and it hits you we still have six more games.”

The key, the rookies learned, is taking care of yourself. Massages, cold tubs and foam rolling are commonplace throughout the locker room, but the rookies figured out early how crucial they are to helping their bodies last.

Taylor also does yoga.

Safety Tyrann Mathieu makes sure he goes to sleep early.

Running back Andre Ellington gets in the hot tub, too.

“I’m pretty durable, but I mean I could just feel my body [saying] what are you doing? What’s going on?” safety Tony Jefferson said. “I think I can speak for everyone, everybody’s feeling it.

“I don’t think there’s no preparing for it. It’s gonna happen. It’s what you do when it happens or what you can do before it happens. But yup, I’m definitely there.”

Cardinals strength and conditioning coordinator John Lott warned the rookies that they’ll start feeling the effects of the season after Week 5 and then it would hit them again around this time of year. And he was right, Taylor said.

Taylor also began realizing how long of a season he was in for after the fifth game.

To Mathieu, he hit a point in the last few weeks where everything he was doing seemed redundant. He was seeing the repetition and routine that comes with being a professional football player.

“We still got [five] games left,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to wrap my head around. Hopefully I can stay how I’m feeling right now.”

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he doesn’t start watching for his rookies to hit a wall until after Thanksgiving. He already noticed Ellington start to hit one last week in practice. After calling out the former Clemson star last Thursday, Ellington responded with a strong practice Friday.

Taking the physical precautions has become the easiest part of withstanding an NFL season. The rookies are working on overcoming the mental hurdles of playing between six and eight more games in a season than they’ve been used to for the last three or four years.

“It’s kinda crazy but at the same time you don’t get burned out during the week in practice,” Ellington said. “They take care of us a lot. When you get to the game you let it all out and you got a chance to recover, as opposed to college. You got to go to class, work out, so it’s different.”