‘Completely different’ Elliott preps for Cowboys, no drama
OXNARD, Calif. — Ezekiel Elliott never has offered much about his state of mind at training camp a year ago when the star running back of the Dallas Cowboys faced the possibility of a suspension over domestic violence allegations.
So let his position coach explain the difference now that the drama is gone.
“You go at this time last year, he’s very stressed out,” running backs coach Gary Brown said. “Wasn’t himself. Looked big. Now he looks happy and jubilant and lean and just going out there and having some fun. So it’s a completely different Zeke than it was last year.”
The six-game suspension was announced while the Cowboys were in California last year. Elliott’s legal team sued after the club had returned to Texas, sparking a two-month court fight that finally ended with the 2016 NFL rushing leader serving the ban halfway through the season.
Elliott had an uneven start last year before looking more like the rookie sensation who helped lead the Cowboys to an NFC-best 13 wins alongside quarterback Dak Prescott, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year on that playoff team. Then Elliott ran out of legal options , the Cowboys lost three straight games and Dallas ultimately missed the postseason at 9-7.
There isn’t any waiting and wondering now.
“I am just ready to go out there and prove myself and be the running back I am for this team,” Elliott said in his first meeting with reporters at camp. “And go out there and have a good year.”
The suspension wasn’t the only thing that had Elliott in the headlines last year.
There was video of him pulling down a woman’s shirt during a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas. The NFL cited that incident in its letter detailing his punishment while saying it didn’t play a role in the outcome of a yearlong investigation conducted despite prosecutors in Ohio not pursuing the case. Elliott also was linked to a fight outside a bar not long before the team reported to California last July, although his name didn’t appear in the police report detailing the incident.
This offseason came and went without any significant headlines.
“I am being more cautious, more focused on my game,” said Elliott, who turned 23 last week. “And focused on having a good year.”
After leading the league with 1,631 yards rushing in 2016, Elliott had the best per-game rushing average last season at 98.3 yards. His 2,614 yards through two seasons are the most in franchise history, ahead of NFL all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith and another Hall of Famer, Tony Dorsett.
The Cowboys aren’t making any secret about building their offense around him. Dallas dumped Dez Bryant, the franchise leader in touchdown receptions, in a cost-cutting move in the offseason. They believe the passing game with Prescott is best-suited feeding off Elliott.
That’s why the Cowboys were as interested as Elliott was in a quiet offseason for the former Ohio State star.
“It’s important for him, it’s important for his teammates, it’s important — obviously — for our franchise and what people’s thoughts are on him,” executive vice president of personnel Stephen Jones said.