There is an unmistakable dark cloud hanging over Dallas Cowboys training camp and perhaps the start of the season.
Everyone can see it. No one really wants to talk about, especially running back Ezekiel Elliott, who is still awaiting word from NFL regarding its year-long investigation into domestic violence claims by a former girlfriend.
Owner Jerry Jones believes a decision is imminent. Jones is confident that Elliott won’t draw a suspension, but no one knows what the league is going to do.
Any suspension would be a huge setback to the Cowboys, particularly after yet another suspension affecting the team was announced Friday. Defensive end Damontre Moore has been suspended two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
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The Cowboys were off Friday.
Elliott has declined to talk to the media, at least until a decision is made.
But he hasn’t let that affect his play and focus so far in practice.
Coach Jason Garrett said Elliott is very engaged in practice and meetings. It is his escape from the pressure of the investigation.
“Zeke loves football,” Garrett said. “He studies his stuff hard, he’s very engaged in meetings. He loves taking part in walk-throughs. His walk-throughs aren’t really walk-throughs, he’s always running around, and certainly when he gets to practice he practices as hard and as well as anybody we have on our football team.”
The good news for the Cowboys is that Elliott needs the work, even if he is the NFL’s reigning rushing champing after gaining 1,631 yards as a rookie.
He missed much of training camp last year because of a hamstring issue and thus got off to a slow start last season. His season really didn’t really take off until the third game, when he rushed 30 times for 140 yards against the Chicago Bears, starting a streak of four consecutive games with at least 130 yards.
The reps he is getting now are invaluable for a second-year player and maybe more so, if he is forced to miss a game or two under NFL suspension.
“Reps only help,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “I think the biggest thing is getting those snaps that we can’t get back … these situations, these fronts, these pressures, they come up during the year. It’s very valuable to be able to get the reps so it can only help.”
The Cowboys plan to make Elliott an even bigger part of the offense this season by giving him a larger role in the passing game.
Lance Dunbar, gone in free agency, served as the third-down back a year ago.
“I think he can have more production in the passing game for sure,” Linehan said of Elliott. “That’s one thing we’ve talked about and want to do. We want the ball in his hands any way we can get it to him.”