COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The most vaunted move in Ezekiel Elliott's arsenal has been in mothballs, but he's about to unleash it on defenders who might have been getting something of a free ride a year ago.
The Ohio State running back is no longer one-handed, hampered by a wrist injury and unable to deliver a devastating stiff arm that he used so frequently back in his high school days.
As if Elliott wasn't already dangerous enough wounded with an injury that kept the football exclusively in one hand and unable to deliver his punishment with the other, he's finally healthy after a couple surgeries. And now it's his turn to deliver some punishment once he shakes the rust off of his left arm.
"I wouldn't say it was difficult [a year ago], I just had to develop my game a little bit differently, had to find different, creative ways so I could break tackles and fight for extra yards," Elliott said. "I mean, have you ever tried to do something with one hand? You know, imagine playing basketball with one hand. You would have to figure out different ways to do different things."
Elliott certainly found a few options that worked for him without his go-to move a year ago, and there's no disputing how successful he was when he was literally short-handed. His postseason rampage included nearly 700 yards and 8 touchdowns on the way to the national championship for the Buckeyes, and it also increased the expectations for his junior campaign during an offseason in which he was installed as the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.
Of course, that statue is posed rather famously with an extended arm meant for a tackler -- and the ability to duplicate that once again now might just come in handy for both Elliott's chances to claim that award and Ohio State's ability to defend its title.
"It's really good," running backs coach Tony Alford said. "I just think he throws at targets. He's not just laying a hand out there. He does a good job of using his off arm, and obviously he couldn't last year with the wrist and whatnot. But he does a nice job of using that off arm as a weapon.
"As far as his forearms, stiff arms, straight arms, getting guys off of his body and hitting them in the right places to get their head turned, he's skilled at it."
Elliott's skill set clearly includes far more than a deadly stiff arm, and his physical rushing style, ability to hurdle a few would-be tacklers and perhaps some underrated breakaway speed allowed him to continue to pile up yardage and touchdowns even when he wasn't at full strength.
In some ways, his injury might have actually come with a silver lining as it forced him to expand his arsenal of moves while also stressing the importance of ball security in his healthy, ball-carrying right hand. Despite not being able to ward off defenders as forcefully as he might this season, Elliott fumbled just twice over his 301 touches as a sophomore, and at times made it easy to forget he was limited to carrying the football exclusively in one arm.
"We really studied, and I actually think it helped him in a bizarre way," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He's one of the best guys I've ever seen with pad level, because he always had that thing in his right when his left was hurt. He really learned how to protect himself.
"So the thing that a healthy wrist gives you is using that to defend against other people. That still remains to be seen though. We'll evaluate that during the year, but I do think that will be really helpful."
Elliott was doing just fine without the extra help. But now he's got his favorite weapon back, and defenders should consider themselves warned.