TEMPE, Ariz. -- When it comes to talking about who the Arizona Cardinals' starting running back will be this coming season, the conversation has centered around Andre Ellington since last year’s starter, Rashard Mendenhall, retired in March.
Ellington is the likely replacement to begin the season behind quarterback Carson Palmer, given that he was the one running back besides Mendenhall who had the largest role in last season’s offense.
But what about Stepfan Taylor?
The second-year running back, chosen a round before Ellington, isn’t going to sit idle and let Ellington be named the starter without a fight.
“I always try to prepare as the starter,” Taylor said. “Especially last year, as well. (Mendenhall) decided to retire. You’ve got to be able to step up and be ready to play.”
Last season, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians played off the strengths of Mendenhall and Ellington -- power and speed, respectively -- using them as a one-two punch. By time Arizona got to the second half of the season, the running game was working. With an improved offensive line, it eventually set up the passing game, giving the Cardinals a multi-dimensional offense that led to a 7-2 run to close the season.
Watch for that again in 2014, but with Taylor assuming the power role.
At 5-foot-9, Taylor has the strength to bulldoze through the line and has thighs so strong they seem to bounce would-be tacklers a few yards back. He finished with 115 yards on 36 carries in 2013 while playing 128 snaps.
Taylor was surprised when Mendenhall retired in March, but will embrace the opportunity it presented.
“He felt it was his time to go,” Taylor said. “Only a player knows when he’s ready to finish. It was a little surprising. But, I guess it was just the best decision in his mind.”
Taylor’s expected playing time might be cut into by free-agent signing Jonathan Dwyer, who played for Arians as, coincidentally enough, Mendenhall’s backup in Pittsburgh. Taylor’s role could also change even more if the Cardinals add a running back through the NFL draft next week. On Thursday, Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said there wasn’t a position the team wouldn’t look at in the draft. While the value of running backs in the first few days of the draft has increasingly dropped during the past few seasons, the Cardinals could land one on Day 3.
The return of Ryan Williams could also play into where Arians sees Taylor in the offense. Depending on how the draft plays out, Williams could be given a chance to earn playing time as a running back and on special teams again in training camp, as long as he doesn’t get hurt. Under the Ken Whisenhunt regime, Williams was considered the future of the position after Beanie Wells fell out of Whinsehunt’s good graces.
Arians might want to stick with his players but, in any case, Taylor won’t let a veteran, a rookie addition or Williams get in the way of his goals.
"Like I said, I prepare to be the starter,” Taylor said. “Whatever they do, I just got to be prepared."