Carson Palmer: Running backs are “as competitive of a group as we have”

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The entire staple of running backs for the Arizona Cardinals is finally healthy and practicing in full. They’re now up to eight running backs who are fighting for time and roster spots. It’s got quarterback Carson Palmer excited because he’s got that much more talent to work with in training camp and during the preseason.

“Andre’s (Ellington) kind been kind of limited in camp with an injury (hamstring), obviously Chris (Johnson is) getting in, and Stepf(an Taylor) is just as steady as anybody is on this team; he plays it all, (and) does it all; you (also) got Rob(ert Hughes) at fullback in that battle,” Palmer said. “It’s a good problem to have, and it’s probably as competitive of a group as we have as far as roster spots are concerned.”

How could Palmer not be excited when the team added a former 2,000-yard rusher in Chris Johnson? Palmer went head up with Johnson quite a bit during his time with the Cincinnati Bengals, and when Johnson was with the Tennessee Titans. Palmer believes the offense Johnson is coming into in Arizona is taylor made for him, his skill set, and what he’s able to do for the team at this stage of his career.

“He (Johnson) can get put in certain situations where he has a mismatch, and we (have) a bunch of guys outside (that) you (have) to worry about, and you (have) to worry about him splitting the gap and taking it all the way; he’s done that a number of times as we all know,” Palmer said. “(It’s) pretty typical for what happens around here. It seems every year we somehow find a way to sign a guy that you don’t think you can, or don’t think you will. It’s a great place to play obviously, a lot of guys want to come here, and live here, and play here, and play for this organization. It just makes a lot of sense for a number of reasons for him.”

Statistically, the Cardinals were one of the worst running teams in the NFL last season. They were next to last in the league in rushing yards per game (81.8), and dead last in rushing yards per play (3.29). Those kinds of numbers don’t exactly instill fear in opposing defenses and their defensive coordinators when they’re preparing for them. Palmer says you can throw those stats, and every other stat out the window when it comes to how the Cardinals play football. For him, it’s all about, ‘Did you do what you needed to do to win the game on offense, and did you win?’

“There’s certain games (and) there’s certain opponents, where we’re not just gonna bang our heads against the wall and do what we do; we’re gonna do what’s best for us,” Palmer said. “Some of that’s dependent on what’s going on on the other side of the ball, (and) the type of offense that we’re playing. There’s a big difference between Seattle’s (Seahawks) offense, and New Orleans’ (Saints) offense. Some games will dictate more runs, some personnel we’re playing against will dictate more or less runs; it depends. It’s really week to week with us.”

Palmer and Ellington got things started off with a bang against the Kansas City Chiefs last Saturday with a 57-yard pass play, which set up Ellington’s two-yard touchdown run, which got the scoring started for Arizona. Palmer says it was a “comfort and confidence” play between he and Ellington, which gave Ellington numerous options on that play.

Palmer says that type of play doesn’t happen in Year One or Year Two of them being in head coach Bruce Arians’ system. That’s something they’ve cultivated over the three years they’ve been together.

“That’s a route I’ve thrown Andre (Ellington) thousands of times, maybe 10,000; a ton of times. We do it everyday to start practice,” Palmer said. “I like what we do at the start of practice; we start with the running backs. I think that’s a subliminal message to them maybe (that) the quarterbacks are down with you to start practice off, (and) to work on our routes. I think those guys understand what they mean to this offense. It kind of starts with those guys, and what they do, and the mismatches we create with them. A lot of times other guys are secondary options.”

Arians did a really cool thing on Wednesday, giving all the veterans who’ve played for 10 years or more the day off, including Palmer who’s in his 13th season. Palmer says it’s a “mental day,” and at the same time “a joyous day,” by being able to get some much needed physical rest.

His running backs may all have to work on Wednesday, but Palmer and the veterans aren’t taking this day to kick back with a beverage, and their phones or tablets; they’re doing what they can to help, even with no pads on.

“That’s the first time he’s (Arians) done that,” Palmer said. “Guys understand that it’s not a mess around session this afternoon. Guys understand (that if) he’s (Arians) gonna do that, you better handle it the right way, and the vets that (have played for) 10-plus years, turn into coaches almost, bringing young guys along, and not standing in the back squirting each other with Gatorade. It’s time to focus in, and help out, and not be a distraction, and all those things.”

“He (Arians) wouldn’t do that if he didn’t think we were mature enough to handle it, and we have a very mature group,” Palmer said.

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