- Clarence E. Hill Jr
Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott has his explosion back, feeling like himself again
Running back Ezekiel Elliott knows what is being said about him and his future with the Dallas Cowboys.
Not only is Elliott unconcerned but he doesn’t look or act like someone who is bracing for his last ride in Dallas.
Elliott is in the best shape of his career, while looking as confident and at ease as he’s ever been at the outset of his seventh training camp.
He said his explosion is back after laboring through a torn posterior cruciate ligament last season.
Thanks to work with his personal coach Josh Hicks in the off season, the two-time NFL rushing champion says he is “like his old self again.”
“It’s tough being injured and kind of feeling yourself lose a step,” Elliott said. “So it definitely helped me get back to moving at the speed I was used to and bringing that confidence back to myself — back to my body, back to my mind that I could make those cuts.”
Pundits point that the financial guarantees will be gone from his contract after the season, thus allowing the Cowboys to finally move away from the aging runner with declining production.
“I think it is a big season, but I think you can’t look too far down the road,” Elliott said. “I think if I focus on every day, if I focus on having a good day of camp, if I focus on taking it week by week, I think everything will handle itself. And I don’t think there’s really a reason to look that far down the road. I think if I handle my business every day, then I’ll be in a pretty good situation at the end of the season.”
The numbers are the numbers.
Elliott’s $12.4 million base salary is fully guaranteed in 2022.
But there are no promises about next season’s $10.9 million salary.
Elliott’s numbers have declined each season since averaging 108.7 yards per game as a rookie in 2016. It went from 98.3 in 2017 to 95.6 in 2018 to 84.8 in 2019 to 65.3 in 2020 to a paltry 58.9 in 2021.
What’s also true is that Elliott was on pace for a revival through the first five games in 2021 before suffering the knee injury, rushing for 452 yards and five touchdowns, putting him on pace for more than more than 1,500 yards.
The injury limited his burst and explosion the rest of the way, as he finished with 1,002 yards on 237 carries.
“It definitely was frustrating and definitely frustrating for certain parts of the year, but it’s football,” Elliott said. “I think it was different week to week and it was kind of dependent on if I got hit in my knee or not. Game to game, week to week. It depended on if I got hit on it.”
Although his production caused many to wonder about his future, Elliott made no excuses and never considered missing a game.
Elliott, who has missed only one game in his career due to injury, only cared about being out there for his teammates.
The contract be damned. That’s who he was and who he has always been.
“You know I’m proud of it,” Elliott said of playing all 17 games last season. “But that’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to be out there. I mean even before I got the big contract, when I was on a rookie deal, I didn’t miss any games.
“I think it’s just me as a football player, me as an individual, me as a competitor. I want to be out there. I’m supposed to be available and that’s the plan for this year.”
And while the Cowboys plan to use speedy backup Tony Pollard in tandem with Elliott in 2022 to get another playmaker on the field, he remains a valuable part of the team and main cog in the offense as a runner, blocker and leader.
Coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Zeke Elliott is one of our rocks on this team,” McCarthy said. “He’s a keystone player. The communication, his ability to do all the extra little stuff and those are things I obviously get to look at and be a part of. The extra work he puts in pre-practice, post-practice, Tuesdays, I mean he’s in the quarterback meetings in the morning. The physical part of it — he overcame a lot to play and I think that speaks volumes about him and you need those types of individuals to win championships.”
Elliott is looking forward to sharing the load with Pollard, whose elusiveness and explosiveness are perfect complements to his pounding style.
And winning a championship is all he is focused on in 2022. He is not concerned about anything else.
“The individual goal is the team goal,” Elliott said. “The goal is to make a deep playoff run and take a shot at the Super Bowl.”