At 6-2, 334 pounds, Justin Ellis is a fairly rare athlete. As those who follow the NFL, we tend to see it as more commonplace than we probably should. Carrying that kind of weight while still being able to chase down a running back or a quarterback is pretty remarkable.
Seeing a big guy like ‘Jelly' take the field and move around can tend to have observers engage in some lighthearted jokes. Like defensive line tip drills, where he and other big linemen are asked to jump for tipped balls or when coaches make them do up-downs for having a penalty in practice.
The contradictions in duties of a nose tackle in the NFL can cause a bit of a tightrope walk at times. They pack on the weight to clog the middle, but must stay ‘in shape' so they don't wear down.
Ellis has taken that challenge head on this offseason
"Last year I ran so much, thinking that that was going to help me," said Ellis. "But I was dead when I came to camp. Even though I had a solid camp last year, but I was dead. I feel like I wasn't at my best because my legs were so heavy. But this year I worked smarter, but I also worked hard."
"I told myself ‘I gotta switch it up'. I'm a professional and was still in like the college mindset, you know, in college you work hard, you grind, grind, grind, grind. But this time I tried to treat it like a professional. And tried to take a professional mindset toward it."
His coaches have liked the results of Ellis' new approach.
"He likes my explosion, my quickness, my mobility for a big guy," said Ellis. "So far that's what he's talking about. I got things to improve that we talked about, so I'm working on getting those better."
Last year Ellis and Dan Williams often started alongside each other when the team was lined up in the 4-3. This year they find themselves in a competition for the nose tackle job, as the team continues to shift more to a 3-4 defense. Ellis was ahead in that competition at the start of training camp and has remained there throughout camp.
"I went through OTA's, they liked my OTA's and I got back and they had me at the starting position and I haven't went down yet," said Ellis. "It's a great competition at that spot. Competition comes with the sport, with this profession. Dan Williams is a great player and I'm working to be great. Just working hard every day."
Should the former fourth round pick out of Louisiana Tech ultimately win the starting nose tackle job, that would be no small accomplishment. Dan Williams was one of the team's top free agent additions in 2015 and had a pretty good first season in Silver & Black.
Ellis's emergence would also add to an already tremendous 2014 draft that brought the Raiders Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Gabe Jackson in the first three rounds as well as TJ Carrie in the 7th round. It's also worth noting that Ellis seems to fit the high character of his fellow Raiders draft classmates.