Cow­boys rookie El­liott ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Schuyler Dixon

Ezekiel El­liott didn’t dwell for long on the mo­ment that most made him look like a rookie with the Dal­las Cow­boys: his bench­ing over two fum­bles against Wash­ing­ton in the se­cond game of his ca­reer.

Ezekiel El­liott didn’t dwell for long on the mo­ment that most made him look like a rookie with the Dal­las Cow­boys: his bench­ing over two fum­bles against Wash­ing­ton in the se­cond game of his ca­reer.

The fourth over­all pick in the draft faces the Red­skins again Thurs­day, now as the NFL’s rush­ing leader for a team with nine straight wins rather than the player com­ing off a rough de­but against the New York Giants in the only loss for the Cow­boys (9-1).

“Just reps, that’s all it is,” the 21-year-old for­mer Ohio State star said.

It’s a lit­tle more than that for some­one who em­braced the ex­pec­ta­tions as a lofty pick for a fran­chise that drafted two Hall of Fame run­ning backs, Tony Dorsett and all-time NFL rush­ing leader Em­mitt Smith.

El­liott’s phys­i­cal style fits well with one of the NFL’s best of­fen­sive lines. He can flip from pun­ish­ing to grace­ful in one play while catch­ing passes and block­ing blitzes. Oh, and that break­away speed, as seen on an 83-yard screen pass for a touch­down that sparked a slug­gish of­fense in a win at Pitts­burgh.

“His coach in col­lege said he’s the best player he’s ever had with the ball not in his hands,” coach Ja­son Gar­rett said. “He’s a young player, but he’s a very ma­ture player. He picks things up quickly. And I think he’s got a tremen­dous com­pet­i­tive spirit.”

Those traits helped El­liott han­dle the ex­pec­ta­tions — one of the few things he doesn’t share with fel­low rookie sen­sa­tion and road-game room­mate Dak Prescott.

The fourth-rounder from Mis­sis­sippi State re­placed in­jured quar­ter­back Tony Romo and im­prob­a­bly led Dal­las to the best record in the NFL, even­tu­ally tak­ing the job from Dal­las’ 10year starter. El­liott’s im­pact — 138 yards per game from scrim­mage and 10 touch­downs — helped Prescott, too.

“I think it’s just him be­ing him­self and not let­ting the pres­sure or any­thing get to him,” backup run­ning back Al­fred Mor­ris said. “Even the first cou­ple of weeks, it started a lit­tle rough for him. He didn’t let that bother him.”

Mor­ris can’t help but men­tion Prescott when de­scrib­ing El­liott’s suc­cess be­cause he went through the same thing four years ago with Robert Grif­fin III in Wash­ing­ton. The stand­out combo of Grif­fin and Mor­ris helped the Red­skins reach the play­offs.

“It’s been fun to watch, es­pe­cially him and Dak,” Mor­ris said. “I know I keep throw­ing Dak in there, but they’re so good to­gether. It’s pretty cool to see and I’m just sit­ting back and kind of ad­mir­ing, like, man, just keep it up, keep it up, keep it up.” El­liott started the sea­son un­der the cloud of a do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Ohio over an in­ci­dent dur­ing the sum­mer. He has been cleared legally, but not by the NFL.

It hasn’t af­fected El­liott’s gen­er­ally cheery de­meanor in the locker room — dur­ing the week or on game days.

Af­ter the Cow­boys broke the club’s reg­u­lar-sea­son record with their ninth straight win last Sun­day against Bal­ti­more, El­liott chided 14th-year tight end Ja­son Wit­ten about his age yet again.

It was some­thing about the 34-year-old Wit­ten hav­ing played foot­ball longer than El­liott had been alive.

“Yeah, think about it,” El­liott said Tues­day , not back­ing down from his claim. “If you count his high school, col­lege and pro years. I’m 21. Do the math.”

Well, it doesn’t quite add up. But that’s not re­ally the point. The ef­fect on El­liott’s older team­mates — which is all of them — is the point.

“He’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent player from Week 2 and that’s all credit to him by the way he ap­proaches prac­tice, the way he goes out there and just ‘beasts’ it and has fun through­out prac­tice,” re­ceiver Dez Bryant said. “We just go out there and en­joy it.”

Be­sides the slug­gish start to the sea­son, El­liott has had slow starts to games. He didn’t touch the ball in the se­cond quar­ter against the Ravens and had 26 yards rush­ing at half­time.

But El­liott fin­ished with 97 yards for his eighth straight game with at least 92 while break­ing Dorsett’s club rookie rush­ing record of 1,007 yards. He needed 25 car­ries (a rough-and-tumble 3.9-yard av­er­age) against the NFL’s top rush­ing de­fense.

“The teams I’ve been on and been suc­cess­ful, they are phys­i­cal teams,” said El­liott, who has 1,102 yards rush­ing. “There are not many teams that want to do that for four quar­ters and that’s a men­tal­ity. I think that’s the cham­pi­onship style. I think cham­pi­onship teams all have that.”

MICHAEL AINSWORTH — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bal­ti­more Ravens’ Zach Orr (54) and Ter­rell Suggs, right, rush as Dal­las Cow­boys’ Ezekiel El­liott (21) finds run­ning room through the line of scrim­mage in the se­cond half of an NFL foot­ball game, Sun­day in Ar­ling­ton, Texas.

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