“Tiger, tiger!” Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers calls out at the line of scrimmage.
“Oh, this gonna be a run play to the left. Watch,” Raiders defensive tackle Justin Ellis.
Lo and behold, Ellis is right; Bolts running back Melvin Gordon takes the handoff to the left side and is stuffed for no gain by Ellis’ teammates. Typically the fifth-year veteran is with them in the trenches, but lately he’s been forced to watch from his couch.
Ellis had a productive training camp and looked poised for a strong first season in new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther’s system, but after sustaining an injury against the Los Angeles Rams in the season opener, the big man was placed on the Reserve/Injured list. The decision to place Ellis on IR meant he wouldn’t be able to participate in a game until at least Week 9, and the foreseeable future would be spent rehabbing and sitting patiently at home in Alameda.
So while the rest of the team was prepping to play the Chargers, Ellis was getting ready for the action by turning on one of his many playlists, and lighting a candle — he loves the smell of vanilla — ready for what was about to unfold.
Are the candles for good luck? Gameday superstition?
“Nah, not really,” he says with a laugh. “I just say a prayer, and then I hope for the best. Stay positive the whole time. You have to stay positive the whole time.”
Watching from home has provided a new perspective for No. 78, and while he could mope about his injury, Ellis keeps things on the brighter side.
“The first week it was like [frustrating], but now I’m in fan mode and I can only control what I can control,” Ellis told me. “I just miss the sideline stuff. By the time we get back on Tuesday, and we talk about the game, we talk about the sideline, that’s the stuff I miss. On the sideline, they got so much stuff going on, so that’s the only thing I feel like I’m missing out on.
“I try to make the best of it though,” he added. “I know I’m going to be out so I might as well just deal with it. I still text everybody and let them know I’m still thinking of them, wishing them luck.”
And on Sunday, Jelly truly was the ultimate fan. He stayed positive regardless of the score or the game’s momentum, and his Twitter feed is a constant source of positivity.
“[Mo Hurst Jr is] productive; he works hard. He’s going to be a good player,” Ellis notes during the game. “I feel like everybody do their own good things. Marquel [Lee], I feel like he improved, I’m proud of him. I’m happy to see Conley, I’m happy to see [Daryl] Worley back too.”
While Ellis remains focused on staying positive and supporting his teammates each week, he has a battle of his own that he’s fighting. Just four weeks into rehab, he’s optimistic he’ll be back on the field for the team’s showdown in Santa Clara against the San Francisco 49ers.
“It’s going good, I’m out [of] the boot finally,” he said. “I think just right now we’re going day by day, and on the weekends I just rest.”
When Ellis eventually returns, the hope is that he’ll fit right back into Guenther’s scheme. In the brief time they’ve known each other, Ellis considers Guenther one of the best coaches he’s ever had. The way he coaches allows the defensive linemen to be more versatile and have more freedom to make plays. Defensive line coach Mike Trgovac has also made the game easier for Ellis as well. In the meeting rooms, Trgovac is also teaching the defensive linemen more in-depth knowledge about pass protections and formations. The combination of the two is allowing No. 78 and his peers along the defensive front to develop rapidly in a new system.
“I feel like I’m getting better every year, like this year I was prepared for the season and I worked hard,” Ellis shared. “I feel like the blocks are so much easier, I like Coach Trgovac, he’s a good coach. He’s got me with more knowledge in terms of offensive schemes, teaching us a lot of pass protections, and some formations.”
Ellis’s time will come, and his time away from the sideline won’t last forever. This obstacle is teaching the big man a lot, and he’s handling the situation with grace. Whether he’s playing, coaching the younger players, or just being a fan, Ellis is taking the situation as an opportunity to grow and prepare for his return.