Want to know Cow­boys RB’s ap­proach? Ask his stom­ach

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Jori Ep­stein

Ezekiel El­liott has a spe­cial tat­too across his ab­domen that makes it clear what he wants,

FRISCO, Texas – Ivan Guz­man had inked a few ab­domen tat­toos be­fore.

So he wasn’t fazed when Cow­boys run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott floated the idea of brand­ing his slo­gan onto the frame of­ten vis­i­ble be­neath his crop-top jersey.

“He was like, ‘What do you think about ‘ Feed Me’ go­ing across my ab­domen?’ ” Guz­man said. “And I was like, ‘Oh snap. I’m ready if you’re ready.’ ”

On June 27, El­liott con­ferred with his quar­ter­back and was ready.

“I just hit Dak (Prescott),” El­liott texted Guz­man that night. “And imma get feed me on my stom­ach.”

Guz­man needed no fur­ther in­struc­tion. The Dal­las-Fort Worth tat­too artist set to work brain­storm­ing the de­sign and sten­cil to best dis­play El­liott’s mantra to a world of NFL fans. “Cal­i­for­ni­astyle, Chi­cano-type let­ter­ing,” he de­scribes the ul­ti­mate in­flu­ence, “which is more like a free­hand type of art.”

In a nine-hour ses­sion at El­liott’s home be­fore train­ing camp, Guz­man out­lined, shaded and cleansed his lat­est hand­i­work. El­liott flaunted the new ink on NBC’s Week 1 “Sun­day Night Football” broad­cast af­ter he juked four Rams de­fend­ers en route to Dal­las’ first touch­down of the sea­son.

The “Feed Me” ges­ture El­liott has em­braced since his sopho­more year at Ohio State still rings true.

“Give me the rock,” he summed it up Wed­nes­day, “so I can go make a play.”

But in Year 5 of his ca­reer, El­liott has ex­panded the def­i­ni­tion of what it means to “eat” as a leader for the Cow­boys. His stat line of 249 yards from scrim­mage and three touch­downs through two weeks tells much of the story. Yet 64 yards and a score came via his role in the pass­ing game, which El­liott honed through a sum­mer of work­outs on the turf Prescott in­stalled in his back­yard. In a 40-39 come­back over the Fal­cons last week, the Cow­boys re­lied heav­ily on El­liott’s as­sis­tance in pass pro­tec­tion af­ter two of their top three tack­les landed on in­jured re­serve and a third was in­ac­tive nurs­ing a neck in­jury. Add in empty-sta­dium road games, and team­mates look to El­liott for en­ergy to feed off, too.

“That’s def­i­nitely Zeke’s per­son­al­ity, and he does bring a lot of en­ergy to the team be­cause he has a men­tal­ity that he wants to be fed,” wide re­ceiver Amari Cooper said. “Ob­vi­ously, the world knows he wants to be fed and he wants to help the team in any way he can.”

Cooper laughs re­call­ing the July work­out when El­liott showed up to Prescott’s home less than 24 hours af­ter Guz­man com­pleted the “Feed Me” tat­too. El­liott’s ab­domen was still freshly swollen.

“You know,” Cooper said, “I like it.”

“Feed Me” was the fourth tat­too Guz­man de­signed and inked for El­liott this off­sea­son.

The Greek mytho­log­i­cal fig­ure At­las adorns the right side of El­liott’s torso, At­las’ strength epit­o­mized in both the world he car­ries and the chis­eled ab­domen Guz­man su­per­im­posed from a pho­to­graph of an­other statue. Move in­ward and the face of a bull­dog can­vasses El­liott’s up­per right abs. Guz­man filled in a gap on El­liott’s fore­arm with a pierc­ing blue eye, its color sharp against the black-and-gray art sur­round­ing it.

Guz­man didn’t know much about El­liott’s ca­reer when the run­ning back was re­ferred to him by a mu­tual friend. Guz­man’s “not re­ally big into sports,” he says, so friends ex­plained he was about to ink one of the best run­ning backs in pro­fes­sional football.

El­liott’s thresh­old for pain im­pressed Guz­man, who of­fered to split the out­line and shad­ing into sep­a­rate ses­sions to re­duce con­sec­u­tive hours in pain. El­liott opted to com­plete the piece in one ses­sion on a mas­sage ta­ble at his home.

Dur­ing the ses­sion, El­liott and Guz­man traded sto­ries. They dis­cussed how each ar­rived at their ca­reers—Guz­man air­brushed T-shirts be­fore tran­si­tion­ing to tat­too­ing nearly five years ago—and how their moth­ers shaped their high stan­dards and work ethic, Guz­man said. An­other com­mon­al­ity: Nei­ther mom is par­tic­u­larly en­thu­si­as­tic about their son’s tat­toos.

Even so, Guz­man’s mother has come to ap­pre­ci­ate her son’s eye for de­tail, while El­liott in­sists his mom is “over get­ting mad at me for tat­toos,” he said. Not to men­tion El­liott’s fam­ily em­braces the “Feed Me” mantra the artist has come to ap­pre­ci­ate.

“I think his en­ergy rubs off on any­body,” Guz­man said.

The Cow­boys echo that sen­ti­ment. Of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Kellen Moore calls El­liott an “en­ergy source” while re­ceiver Michael Gallup says El­liott is “al­ways com­ing up with some­thing funny to get ev­ery­body go­ing.” Prescott cred­its the om­nipresent threat El­liott poses to defenses as the key to the quar­ter­back’s three rush­ing touch­downs against the Fal­cons.

“This is a guy, as I said, who dur­ing the games he helps me get guys go­ing, get guys in spots,” Prescott said. . “I don’t think there’s many, if any, run­ning back that’s as in­tel­li­gent and knows the game like Zeke does ... be­ing back there for the four years as we have, (we’re) able to see the same stuff.

“I mean, it calls just for a great tan­dem. As he said, I can’t imag­ine me not in that back­field with him.”

In Seat­tle on Sun­day, El­liott will face a de­fense that’s al­lowed just 69.5 rush­ing yards a game (sec­ond-best in the NFL). But the Cow­boys will need him to scrap to­gether yards to re­lieve a de­fense fac­ing Rus­sell Wil­son, who cur­rently leads the league with nine pass­ing touch­downs and a 140.0 quar­ter­back rat­ing. The Cow­boys are in­tent on im­prov­ing a poor start in time of pos­ses­sion, the 34:43 av­er­age they’ve ceded to op­po­nents fourth-most in the league. They’ll need a cleaner begin­ning, too, than the four fum­bles (three lost) in their Week 2 first quar­ter.

“This sea­son, as an of­fense, we have shot our­selves in the foot,” El­liott said. “Go­ing into this week, we have to make sure we are locked on third down and locked in on the ball.

“That starts with me.” Prescott be­lieves the Cow­boys are ca­pa­ble of rou­tinely putting up the 40 points they did in Week 2, their tal­ented trio of re­ceivers wreak­ing havoc. But they won’t rely on the on­side kick mir­a­cle and up-tempo fury that ce­mented them as the first team in 441 tries to beat an op­po­nent that had scored 39 with­out a turnover. Re­peat 40-point per­for­mances are “only re­al­is­tic if Zeke is do­ing and hav­ing the suc­cess he has and giv­ing them one-on-one matchups,” Prescott said. early in Septem­ber. And this week, a de­fense with a bat­tered sec­ondary will cher­ish any respite from Wil­son.

El­liott’s ready and ea­ger to be fed. “I touch the ball not as much as Dak, but af­ter him a lot,” he said. “I mean, shoot: If it got to be me, it got to be me.”

BRAN­DON WADE/AP

Cow­boys RB Ezekiel El­liott lets his ab­dom­i­nal tat­too do (some of) the talk­ing.

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