FRISCO, Texas -- One of the more amazing things about the Dallas Cowboys' 41-14 win last week against the Miami Dolphins was that they gained 300 yards in the first half alone. Last year, the Cowboys had four games in which they did not reach that total for a game, and in two others they barely eclipsed 300 yards.
Preseason game or not, that’s impressive.
Perhaps more impressive is that Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott didn’t even play in the game.
That changes Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks.
“I love him,” Dallas receiver Dez Bryant said of the Cowboys’ first-round pick. “I love the swag. He’s fierce, and I know he seems like he’s all chill and stuff, but he’s ready to get out there. He’s ready to go. He’s fired up. I’m ready to see him play. I’m ready to block for him because I know he’s going to do some amazing things for us. I’m ready to see that boy do his thing.”
Ever since the Cowboys drafted Elliott in April with the fourth overall pick, the expectations have been as high as those for Michael Phelps at the Olympics. Whatever the equivalent is to five gold medals on the football field, that’s what Elliott has to do as a rookie running back.
Elliott’s introduction has been largely low-key. On Aug. 2, he was unable to finish practice because of a sore hamstring. He missed the next eight practices in Oxnard, California, and did not play in the Cowboys’ first two preseason games.
He took part in limited portions of Dallas' final two practices in California and has done more the past two days since the team's return to Texas. The Cowboys' final practice before heading to Seattle will be Tuesday.
“Well, it’s important for all players to practice and get their work in,” coach Jason Garrett said. “That’s what we would like for everybody on our team, regardless if they’re a first-year player or have played for 15 years, but unfortunately that’s not always the case. Some guys get hurt or for different reasons are not able to practice, so what you do is try to focus on the task at hand and do what you need to do. He’s done a really good job with his rehab getting himself back, staying engaged with the team; he picked things up quickly. He’s had a good couple of days of practice.”
The lack of practice time might hurt in terms of cohesion with the offensive line. The Cowboys' running game is built on angles and launch points. Elliott has specific reads he must make off the hip of a tight end, tackle or guard.
As for the line, they say they block the same regardless of the runner.
“It’s going to be about him getting in and learning the system and learning the way that other backs do it so it’s uniform across the board,” center Travis Frederick said. “For us, it doesn’t really change. There’s not a ton of back and forth there. But we’re excited to get him back. I think he can bring a lot to the team.”
Just as Elliott and the rest of the rookies have to earn the stars on their helmets, they also have to earn a spot in the new locker room at The Star. The rookies are in a side locker room, out of sight from the rest of the room.
Perhaps that is why Elliott has not been available for comment Sunday or Monday.
Generally speaking, the transition to the NFL is easier for a running back than for other positions, although picking up blitz assignments is a bit trickier.
The offense Elliott ran at Ohio State, where he rushed for 1,878 and 1,821 yards in his final two seasons and scored 41 touchdowns total, is different from what the Cowboys run stylistically, but not so much conceptually, according to Garrett.
“He was a good runner, running a lot of different runs,” Garrett said. “He showed that he could do a lot of different things there, and many of those things are things we do in our offense. He’s picked things up quickly. He’s very conscientious. He’s a smart guy. He’s a quick study. He’s one of those guys that’s able to take it from the meeting room and take it out on the practice field. When you tell him something, he typically gets it the first time and is able to implement it into his technique. He really loves football and works very hard at it. We’re excited to see him play.”