The numbers weren’t spectacular for Justin Ellis in his rookie season for the Raiders.
Over 16 games – including 14 starts – the 6-foot-2, 334-pounder from Louisiana Tech was in on 21 tackles and had zero sacks.
But the fourth-round pick who’s known as “Jelly” had an impact much bigger than those numbers. Ellis was an immovable force on the Raiders’ defensive interior, often double-teamed. He had a great push against the offensive line, and his play allowed other defenders to make plays.
Former Raiders head coach Dennis Allen early last season noted that Ellis is “very powerful” and made rapid gains. “That’s a guy that’s really going to be able to help our defense,” said Allen.
Now Ellis is pumped up for his second pro season. He’s penciled in as a starter at defensive tackle alongside Dan Williams, the free-agent force signed from Arizona. As a pair, the duo has the potential to be a huge factor in tying up blockers and slowing opponents’ running games – a problem for the defense in 2014.
Not only that, but Ellis says 2014 was a great learning year, and he’s eager to be much, much better in 2015.
Recently, Ellis told the News-Star in Louisiana that he now wants “to be the best at my position.”
“I just want to keep working at my craft,” said Ellis. “Even though I did some things good, I want to do them even better.”
Ellis’ play surpassed that of veterans Pat Smith and Antonio Smith in 2014. Smith, in fact, was released by the Raiders recently (and promptly signed with the Broncos). But Ellis said Smith was a great teacher and owes him a lot.
“He’s got a lot of wisdom,” said Ellis.
Now Ellis will be in a defense that has added some key pieces in free agency and will add even more in the upcoming draft, and he’s eager to help turn the Raiders around after a 3-13 season. After soaking up so much information as a rookie, and learning every week, he thinks he can take the steps to a higher level.
The Raiders have begun their quest this week with the start of organized workouts at the team’s facility under new head coach Jack Del Rio.
“My play recognition has gotten better,” Ellis told the News-Star. “That’s the thing that was getting me at first. I had the potentia to be this and that, but my play recognition slowed down for me as I went on. Hopefully, I still got it.”