Expectations for Ezekiel Elliott in return to Cowboys: ‘I think I still am a dominant guy’

FRISCO, Texas — Ezekiel Elliott views his return to the Dallas Cowboys as a different era from when he was with the team for seven seasons before playing in New England last year. That was a factor in him not going back to previous jersey No. 21. Elliott will wear No. 15 this season, the same number he wore last year with the Patriots and while he was at Ohio State.



“I got unfinished business,” Elliott said Wednesday of his return to the Cowboys on a one-year deal. “I’m here to chase that ring. … I’m going to do whatever I need to do and whatever I can do to help this team be successful.”


After being drafted fourth overall in 2016, Elliott immediately became the lead back in Dallas, winning two rushing titles. He led the team in rushing for six consecutive seasons. But he returns to a group that is expected to run with more of a committee approach. Elliott could end up getting the most carries for the Cowboys this season, but so could Rico Dowdle, Royce Freeman, Malik Davis or a player who isn’t even on the current roster.


Elliott’s rushing yards per game average has decreased each of his eight seasons in the league, going from 108.7 his rookie year to 37.8 last year.


“I think I still am a dominant guy,” Elliott said from the team’s annual Reliant home run derby at Riders Field. “I got to go out there and prove that, but that’s the motivation. I think we all know how I feel about competing and leaving it all out there for my team.”


Earlier in the day, Cowboys vice president of player personnel Will McClay was asked about the addition of Elliott during a conference call to discuss the team’s recent draft.


“Zeke’s a winning, starting running back in the league,” McClay said. “You turn on the tape, you saw him do things, running power gap scheme, running inside/outside zones, helping in pass protection. All those things to show that the ability was still there.


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“And then adding him to this roster, it adds a guy, No. 1 that loves football, that wants to win here, wants to be here and adds something to the roster from a leadership standpoint, as well as his ability to play. I think the running back position in this day and age is not that old school one guy is the lead back and the others fill in. It’s a group by committee. And what he’ll add to that group, we’re excited about.”


The annual home run derby is usually attended by all of the team’s star players. However, WR CeeDee Lamb and LB/DE Micah Parsons both skipped the event this year. Neither player has attended the voluntary part of the team’s offseason workouts at The Star. Lamb is seeking a new contract as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. Parsons has two years left on his rookie contract.


“The guy is a freak,” Cowboys veteran WR Brandin Cooks said of Lamb. “He deserves everything that’s coming his way. I hope he gets every single dollar he can and is the highest-paid receiver in the league, because he’s the greatest receiver in the league. No doubt.”


Veteran LB Eric Kendricks spoke with reporters for the first time since being the team’s most notable free-agency addition. Kendricks considered joining the San Francisco 49ers before ultimately deciding to sign a one-year deal with the Cowboys and join his former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.


“I think I would’ve taken more of a reserved role (in San Francisco),” Kendricks said, “where as I feel I have a lot left to give and I wanted to be here and be middle linebacker. I wanted to share my experience with the team, share my leadership abilities and command that huddle.”


After the draft concluded Saturday night, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was talking with reporters about the upcoming season when he said they’re in a situation where their younger players have to “start carrying the mail for the Cowboys.” While he was referring to their rookie class, he was also talking about players who need to make a second- or third-year jump. Dallas got very little out of last year’s rookie class.


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McClay was asked Wednesday about the importance of having that group (DT Mazi Smith, TE Luke Schoonmaker, LB DeMarvion Overshown, DE Viliami Fehoko, etc.) make a second-year jump.


“Those guys have to make a jump for us to succeed,” he said. “They’ve been in the system for a year. Now, we’ve got a little different defensive scheme, but they’ve been around here. They’ve been a part of the process. When you have a good team and we’ve won 36 games in three years, we haven’t won the big one, but that’s highly productive to win that many games. To do that, you have to have a number of good players.


“So when you draft players, those players don’t always immediately step in and fill that role. But when you’re drafting a player, you’re drafting them for the four to five years of their contract, and you’re trying to get a return on investment. We need those guys to take a jump now based on the cap and the way things are. And they just have to step up. At the end of the day, that’s exactly what it is.


“We’ll continue to try and fill holes and add players as we go through this process. But guys just have to step up. It’s their time now. We’ve lost a number of really quality vets that have been on our roster, that have been with us for a while. These young guys need to step up. There’s no other way about it.”



Gideon Canice

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