Time will soon tell if Ezekiel Elliott drives a DeLorean at 88 mph as he works to turn back the hourglass sands just a bit. The central focus of training camp for the Dallas Cowboys is the continued health and return of two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Dak Prescott, but he’s not the only cornerstone player looking to find top gear again in 2021. Elliott is another (albeit in a different capacity), the two-time NFL rushing champ having trained like never before this offseason with motivation to help the Cowboys bounce back from a disappointing 6-10 season that saw him suffer from a rash of fumbles.
Prescott went on record ahead of training camp in Oxnard, California to make it known Elliott is ready to do serious damage this year.
“Zeke looks great,” Prescott said following minicamp. “He’s in the best shape of his life — looking fast. Everybody’s seen the clips of him working out independently with his running back coach. His cuts, just how explosive he is.
“Excited to have a full year with him again and getting him healthy throughout the whole season. When Zeke’s healthy and Zeke’s doing his thing, he’s the best running back in the league. It’s just exciting to see him in the best shape of his life, or [at least the] best shape he’s been in the NFL. That’s going to be special for us moving forward.”
To help prove that point, Elliott posted the following image on Instagram ahead of training camp — washboard and all.
Aside from the fact you could probably do laundry on his abs, Elliott has also been working on his quickness with a variety of footwork drills often seen this offseason in the social media posts of himself and others who’ve been key in helping him sculpt his body, mind and overall game. The 25-year-old looks as explosive as he’s ever looked, and he believes it’ll help him get back to hitting the home run ball more often.
“I think I’m quicker,” the three-time Pro Bowler told media after the first practice of training camp. “I think my trainer — Joshua Hicks — definitely got me right this offseason and I thank him a lot for working with me, making it fun and making me a better player. … I think [quickness] is definitely something I needed to improve so I went and got in the lab and got better.”
Elliott is statistically coming off of his worst season as a pro in rushing yards (979), along with his lowest yards per rushing attempt in the first five years of his career (4.0). The aforementioned fumble bug also bit him hard to begin the season, and he’d finish with six on the year. All of that having been said, and to be objectively fair here, perspective remains key when assessing the 2020 version of Elliott.
Turn to the other side of the coin and 979 rushing yards put him just shy of 1,000 on the year, and that’s despite nursing a severe calf bruise that eventually cost him a game, attempting to recover from COVID-19, and without Prescott under center — leading to a cacophony of terrible quarterback play that allowed opposing defenses to focus mostly on stopping Elliott and not Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci or Garrett Gilbert. Additionally, he posted 1,317 yards from scrimmage and, overall, the down season by Elliott was better than a statistical breakout season by many others last year.
To his own admission though, he knows he can do better (as he has in the past).
“Just having the year I had last year, you don’t need more motivation than that,” said Elliott. “I just know the type of player I am. I don’t think I showed that last year. I got a lot to prove. I just made sure I didn’t leave any doubt out there that I didn’t do as much as I needed to do.
“… Prove it to myself. I do it for my teammates. I think the hardest part about last year is you feel like you let your teammates down. That hurts. I want to make sure I put my best step forward and do everything I need to do to help this team win.”
He’s also focused on making sure his turnaround in the fumble category continues into 2021, after having fixed his the issue in-season, fumbling only once from Week 7 through Week 17.
“Number one: fumbling the ball,” he added. “I’ve never been a fumbler. When you carry the ball, you kind of carry the whole hope of the whole team, organization and fan base. If you cough it up and give it to the other team, you’re letting everyone down, so I mean that’s the No. 1 thing that’s my focus this year is protecting the ball.”
Another focus is on doing what he can do avoid another bout with COVID-19, having gotten vaccinated and contributing to the Cowboys climbing Pittsburgh Steelers — per owner Jerry Jones and team exec Stephen Jones. It’s a touchy subject around the nation but especially in the NFL, thanks to a memo sent by the league’s front office that promises that cause outbreaks. So not only is Elliott taking the added measure to protect himself, but also the Cowboys.before their Hall of Fame Game matchup with the
“I got the vaccine just because I wanted to put myself in the best situation to be out there for my team week in and week out,” he noted.
He stopped short of trying to pressure the “handful” of teammates not “in the pipeline” to be vaccinated, though.
“But, I mean, not everyone feels that strongly or maybe other people still have their view of vaccines,” said Elliott. “You can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to do with their body. … I mean you just told me something new [regarding the 2021 NFL COVID-19 legislation] but like I said it’s everyone’s body. You’ve got to respect that. A check is only monetary. You can’t put a price on someone’s health or what they think will make them feel good or not make them feel good.
“Like I said, you’re kind of walking a tight line.”
In all, Elliott is a ready for the coming season as he’s ever been, and then some. He’s also shed pounds to help with his quickness and speed — dropping from the 225 pounds he played at last season to 218 pounds to begin training camp, and sources tell CBS Sports he got a bit leaner than 218 this summer before eventually settling in at that number. It’s possible he adds to it a smidge with additional weight training, but equally likely he stays right where he’s at when considering how he feels at the moment.
“I’m like 218 right now [and] I’ve heard as you get older in this league you want to start losing weight, and nutrition has played a big part of that,” said the All-Pro. “Shoutout to my chef, Chef Hoppie, for getting me right and getting me lean and ready for the season. I feel good where I am.”
It’s the lightest he’s been since his freshman year at Ohio State University, when he averaged 8.7 yards per carry.
Realistically speaking, it’s not expected he’ll achieve that number in 2021, but it’s possible it’ll help him return to rookie form — when he racked up 1,994 yards from scrimmage with 16 touchdowns on a career-best 9.3 yards per touch. Extrapolating for the return of Prescott and, as such, the prolific passing attack, you could argue Elliott won’t have the touches needed to surpass 2,000 yards from scrimmage (as he did in 2018), but considering he’ll also be an integral part of said passing attack — and the return of a healthy offensive line to help his increased quickness matter that much more — it’s not out of the realm of possibility to project Elliott at around 1,600 scrimmage yards (adjust your fantasy football plans accordingly).
Anything in that ballpark would see him challenge for a third NFL rushing title as well. That would be a huge boost to what was already the league’s No. 1 overall offense with Prescott under center, and entering his sixth year in the league and two removed from having been awarded a historic contract, Elliott is using lessons from the past to propel him into the future.
“It goes by fast,” he said. “You hear it all the time. Until you get to year six you don’t realize it. It goes in a flash of an eye. I have had a great time.
“Doing it with great people. I look forward to being here a lotta more years.”
He’s already showing off both his leveled up speed and quickness in training camp, and the only thing to do next is remind the NFL of what he can do when everyone says he can’t. When Elliott has the kind of motivation he’s carrying into 2021, it often works out quite well for the team he’s on — from John Burroughs High School in Missouri to Ohio State to his current digs with the Dallas Cowboys.
Elliott might’ve just stepped into a time machine, and is racing toward the clock tower in a lightning storm.