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Could Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott break rookie rushing record? 'Good luck,' says Eric Dickerson

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How confident are the Cowboys with starting rookies? (2:10)

Tim Cowlishaw explains why even though Tony Romo will miss at least half of the 2016 season, he believes the Cowboys will go 9-7 and be a wild card team with Dak Prescott at QB and Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield because of their stacked offensive line. (2:10)

FRISCO, Texas -- The question allowed Ezekiel Elliott to provide an open-ended answer as he stood in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys’ locker room Wednesday afternoon.

“What do you know about Eric Dickerson?”

First the rookie running back smiled. Then he laughed.

“I know a little bit about him,” Elliott said. “Eighteen hundred yards. We joke about it all the time. I told him I’m going to get it.”

Many truths have been said in jest.

“He told me through his agent that he was going to break my record,” Dickerson said this week. “I just laughed and said, 'Good luck.' Many have said that; all have failed.

“I like the record because you get one shot at it and that’s it, because you’re a rookie one time. You don’t get three or four shots at that record. 'Oh, let me do it again.’ Nah.”

Elliott enters the season with an opportunity to break the rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards set by Dickerson in 1983 with the Los Angeles Rams. And Elliott is in a perfect situation to do it. The fourth overall pick is running behind the game’s best offensive line -- left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin have each been named All-Pro at least once in the past two seasons -- in a scheme designed for the runner to post huge numbers.

The line is versatile enough to use man-to-man or zone-blocking schemes based on what’s more effective on a given day, and playcaller Scott Linehan wants the same 50-50 run-pass approach the Cowboys used in 2014, when they went 12-4 and won the NFC East.

“I like the way he runs,” Dickerson said. “He’s a north-and-south runner. He runs tough inside. I think he’ll do extremely well.”

Last season, Adrian Peterson was the only NFL runner with more than 300 carries as teams continue to take a committee approach. DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy were the only runners with more than 300 carries in 2014, and McCoy and Marshawn Lynch were only ones to surpass 300 carries in 2013.

Who will be surprised if Elliott leads the league in carries, especially with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo expected to miss at least six games as he recovers from a broken bone in his back?

“When I look at that offensive line, man, if I had that offensive line I’d run for 2,600 yards,” Dickerson said, laughing. “I might not even need a quarterback. The holes are so gaping big, almost like when Emmitt [Smith] played.

“You look at them holes, like, wow. That’s a running back's dream. You want an offensive line that has that cohesiveness, that’s played together, that knows each other’s next move, and that’s what they have in Dallas."

This is the same scheme that allowed Murray to rush for 1,845 yards on 392 carries -- both single-season franchise records -- in 2014. And it’s the same scheme that in 2015 helped Darren McFadden rush for 1,089 yards, fourth in the league, and a 4.6-yard average per carry. In his previous three seasons with Oakland, McFadden had averaged 3.3, 3.3 and 3.4 yards per carry, while never rushing for more than 707 yards.

When Dickerson set the record, he started slowly, gaining 91 yards on 31 carries against the New York Giants. He didn’t crack 100 yards either of the next two weeks as the Rams transitioned from a split-back to one-back running game.

He gained 192 yards against the New York Jets in Week 4 and a season-high 199 the next week against the Detroit Lions. He would have seven more 100-plus-yard games, and he finished the season with 390 carries.

“I didn’t realize the magnitude of having 1,800 as a rookie,” Dickerson said. “Before the season, me and my roommate had talked about 1,200 or 1,300 yards, but after I did it, I was like, you should have 1,700 or 1,800 yards in a good year. That became my standard. Anything less than that and I wasn’t playing well.”

Alfred Morris, who signed a two-year deal with the Cowboys in the offseason, came within 200 yards of breaking Dickerson’s record as a sixth-round pick with the Washington Redskins in 2012.

He finished with 1,613 yards on 335 carries. Morris, former Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers and Dickerson are the only runners to gain more than 1,600 yards as rookies.

“I wasn’t thinking about a record,” Morris said. “I was just running the best I could to help the team win.”

Dickerson, 56, said he battled fatigue about 10 games into the season, which caused him to drop from 225 pounds to 212. He said Elliott must take care of his body.

“People say he won’t get worn down, but it's going to happen in a 16-game season,” Dickerson said. “The contact is different. The speed of the game is different.”

Morris said the season didn’t wear him down because he listened to veterans who told him how to care for his body.

“I wasn’t doing all manner of things,” he said. “I was in the weight room, training room, stretching and doing all the things I needed to do to take care of my body.”

When Dickerson broke Rogers' rookie rushing record of 1,674 yards, it marked the sixth time in 12 years it had been broken.

That’s when running backs reigned. Now the game is about quarterbacks and receivers.

“Honestly, yeah, that’s something I do want to accomplish, but it’s not a priority,” Elliott said of breaking Dickerson’s record. “What’s a priority is going out there and winning ballgames every week.”