The role of the Cardinals' Andre Ellington has gone to the most obvious actor.
Who better to portray the small but powerful Arizona tailback during 49ers practices this week than the guy who has been shadowing Ellington all his life?
“We were very close,” Bruce Ellington said of his first cousin, Andre, who is two years older. “We grew up together on the same dirt road. We also played football and basketball together.”
The basketball games were one-on-one affairs in the front yard in Moncks Corner, S.C. The football games played in the backyard were also one on one – with one boy hiking the ball to himself, launching it down field and then racing to catch it while the other tried to swat it away.
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In high school, Andre was the team’s star running back and punt returner. Bruce was the squad’s do-everything quarterback, running for 191 yards and four touchdowns in South Carolina’s high school championship game in 2009.
Both remained in state for college. But Andre went to Clemson while Bruce chose to play basketball, and eventually football, 135 miles away at South Carolina. That they attended rival schools only caused a family rift when they played each other.
“The only memory I’ve got is that I think he’s 2-0 against me,” Andre said during a conference call Wednesday. “So I haven’t had a chance to win a game against him, unfortunately. But we’ll see what the future brings.”
Revenge was theme of the day in Arizona.
The Cardinals have lost four consecutive games to the 49ers, including two tight contests last season. After Arizona fumbled away a chance for a go-ahead score against the 49ers in October, coach Bruce Arians harangued his players about what was needed to compete with the league’s elite squads.
The Cardinals went on to win seven of their next 10 games.
Asked about the teams’ rivalry on Wednesday, Arians didn’t mince words.
“We didn’t finish either one,” he said of the two contests last year. “Until we finish one, it won’t be a rivalry or anything else. It can’t be a rivalry if you get your (butt) kicked this many times.”
Later he said, “It’s kind of like the Browns and the Steelers. When you beat ’em 10 times, it’s a rivalry for one team and not the other. I imagine they think the Seahawks are their rival, not us.”
One of the changes this season is Andre Ellington, whose carries increased during the 2013 season and who was named the team’s starter this year.
Andre has been slowed by a foot injury that has kept him in a walking boot during the week. But he’s still averaging 5.1 yards per carry and figures to get more of the workload now that No. 2 running back Jonathan Dwyer has been deactivated because of an aggravated assault arrest Wednesday.
“He’s a heck of a player,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Andre Ellington. “Very explosive out of the backfield, running the football, plays big, exceptional vision and hands. Tremendous football player.”
The Cardinals have the same feelings about cousin Bruce, whose official position is wide receiver but who has been moonlighting as a running back since the 49ers parted ways with LaMichael James last week. Bruce Ellington was with the running backs again Wednesday and was wearing his cousin’s No. 38 instead of his usual No. 10.
Bruce Ellington was one of the players who visited with Cardinals coaches and scouts before the draft in May, and Arians said Andre made multiple trips to his office to pitch his cousin.
“You don’t need to sell (Bruce) to me,” Arians told his running back. “I love him.”
They liked Pittsburgh State’s John Brown a little more, however. They took Brown in the third round and another wideout, Walt Powell, in the sixth. The 49ers took Bruce Ellington in the fourth round.