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On field and off, Ezekiel Elliott driven by his own high expectations

FRISCO, Texas -- Ezekiel Elliott can’t really be inconspicuous.

It’s not in his nature. He’s outgoing, having fun with friends and strangers alike. Attention finds him, either from defenders or from cameras. It can be good and bad.

He has been a member of the Dallas Cowboys for only 14 months, but he has one of the best-selling jerseys in the NFL. He is the reigning rushing champion. He is seen as the best young running back in the league, with the highest expectations.

But he also has dealt with off-field issues. The league continues its investigation into a domestic-violence claim by a former girlfriend from July. In August, he made headlines for going to a marijuana dispensary in Seattle prior to a preseason game. In March, he drew social-media attention after cameras caught him pulling down a woman’s top at a St. Patrick’s Day party.

He admits the glare of playing for the Cowboys is stronger than he imagined.

What’s he learned?

“Just kind of stay out of the way,” Elliott said. “Whatever you do is going to be seen.”

Even when he does nothing wrong, it becomes news. He missed the first three organized team activities last month when the car he was riding in was hit as he was coming home from a charity event. The 21-year-old was held out because of neck and body soreness only as a precaution.

During the six OTAs and first two days of the mandatory minicamp since, Elliott has looked like a runner intent on improving upon a stellar rookie season in which he ran for 1,631 yards. He has spoken about becoming a better second-level runner. He wants to be more involved in Dallas' passing game as well.

He is studying defensive fronts more to gain a better understanding of where the holes might open on certain plays. He is studying coverages more to gain an understanding of where he can find creases in the passing game.

“I’ve seen him be more into his craft,” running backs coach Gary Brown said. “And that’s a great thing.”

How?

“In his classroom work,” Brown said. “The questions he asks. His approach out on the practice field. It’s all going in the right direction.”

The expectations that surround quarterback Dak Prescott in his second season also surround Elliott. The expectations for the Cowboys in 2017 rest largely on Prescott’s arm and Elliott’s legs.

“I know his focus is the same as mine: just being better,” Prescott said. “He goes out every day and we make mistakes and we make mistakes together, but I’ve seen in his eyes, see it in his demeanor, his hunger to fix that. So he’s just worrying about getting better in every way. He wants to be the best pass-blocker. He wants to be the best running back, the best receiving running back that he can. And he goes out every day and puts in the work. I don’t think he’s worried about the expectations of others. It’s about his expectations that he has for himself.”

Whatever those individual expectations are, Elliott doesn’t say them aloud. All he says is he wants to win as many games as possible.

Elliott knows he plays a position that does not lend itself to longevity. He said he is learning how to take care of his body better, especially with the Cowboys pledging to give him more work than the 322 carries and 32 receptions he had as a rookie.

“This game we play is brutal,” Elliott said. “Especially at my position. You got guys like [Jason Witten] who can play forever. Guys like [Darren McFadden] can play forever. But you never know when your time is going to be up. You’ve got to take advantage of what you have. We’re in a great situation to do great things. I’ve got to do everything I can to maximize these moments.”

Elliott has had plenty of moments in his 14 months with the Cowboys. From his 83-yard touchdown catch against the Pittsburgh Steelers to his touchdown celebration inside a giant Salvation Army red kettle.

He has had other moments that have not been as good, but just as memorable.

“You just learn from your mistakes,” Elliott said. “If you don’t it can be brutal. So it’s part of life. You’ve got to learn from your mistakes.”

As Elliott spoke Tuesday, he had a Stetson atop his head. The hat was a gift every player received.

“Feel like a real cowboy,” Elliott said. “Do I look the part?”