Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension didn’t catch many of his teammates off guard.
The Dallas Cowboys knew Elliott might have to serve a suspension at some point, and that point came on Thursday when he lost the latest legal round with the NFL over his six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy for alleged domestic violence in July 2016.
It’s a blow to the Cowboys as Elliott is one of their top players and a home-run threat every time he touches the ball. But the Cowboys are prepared for life without him.
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“It’s tough anytime you lose a guy like Zeke,” team captain and linebacker Sean Lee said. “But we have great football players, great running backs, guys who have had a lot of success in the league.
“And we have had a good week of work. We know there is stuff we can’t control and we have to focus on things we can. We have done a good job of that.”
Coach Jason Garrett didn’t feel the need to address Elliott’s situation with the team on Friday. He is confident all of his players are aware of the situation and are simply falling back on the “next man up” philosophy.
“Again, just going back to work. We have a number of guys on our team week in and week out who are available to us and some guys aren’t available to us,” Garrett said. “We don’t go into long dissertations on everybody’s playing status each week. The next guy up is a big philosophy for us and we believe in it.
“I think our team understands it and they understand the importance of it. So the next guys will get their opportunity. They got them yesterday and excited to see those guys play.”
The Cowboys have full faith and confidence in the trio of running backs who will fill Elliott’s void. Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden each have multiple 1,000-yard seasons in the league, and Rod Smith has shown promising signs in his young career.
For Morris and McFadden, it’s been business as usual from Day 1. They both understand that anything can happen in this league.
Morris is expected to make his first start for the Cowboys, who play at Atlanta on Sunday. He started all 64 games in his first four seasons with the Washington Redskins.
“Of course I’m excited about that,” Morris said. “I never know when I’m going to touch the field. Sunday, I have a better idea at least how it’s going to start the game off. We’ll see how everything plays out. I’m excited to get more snaps and more carries, get more opportunities to help my team win.”
McFadden has been inactive for the first eight games.
“It’s something that I’ve been ready for,” McFadden said. “It’s been sitting back and waiting. The opportunity came for me. I’m just going to go out there and just continue what I do and run the ball the way that I know I can.”
For Elliott, it’s a setback in his lengthy legal battle with the NFL. Elliott has maintained his innocence all along, and the Columbus, Ohio, city prosecutor’s office never pursued charges because of misleading and inconsistent information from his ex-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.
Even though Elliott will miss games because of commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to suspend him for domestic violence, his teammates remain supportive of him in continuing the legal fight.
“I don’t think he necessarily lost just yet. I know in December he’s going to get the opportunity to fight again,” Morris said. “But I know he has to sit at least four games. I’m sure it’s very unfortunate and disappointing for him, especially since he feels like he’s fighting for his name. That’s tough.
“Something like that carries through while you’re here and then when you’re done. He’s true to his name and something’s going to pop up, like this whole process has been going on, it pops up and it’s going to carry with his name probably forever. Because the way social media and the way that the internet is, once it’s out there it’s out there. I’m sure it’s very, very frustrating for him and his entire camp has been working and fighting for his name.”
Dez Bryant declared himself ready to play on Thursday, and then went through the Dallas Cowboys’ practice on Friday as a limited participant.
Bryant is dealing with knee/ankle injuries but signs point to him playing against the Falcons. Bryant is officially listed as questionable.
Left tackle Tyron Smith (groin) is also questionable, although signs point toward him missing this week’s game. Swing tackle Chaz Green has gotten the first-team reps at left tackle with Smith sidelined.
Defensive tackle Maliek Collins is also listed as questionable with a foot injury. Collins has been limited in practice all week.
Reserve tight end Geoff Swaim (knee) injured his knee in Thursday’s practice and his status is questionable. If Swaim isn’t able to play, undrafted rookie Blake Jarwin might make his NFL debut.
Jarwin earned a promotion to the 53-man roster a couple weeks ago when other teams were interested in poaching him off the practice squad.
Defensive back Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring) is listed as questionable. He practiced fully for the first time in more than a month this week, although there are questions as to how effective he can be coming off the injury.
The only player officially listed as out is kicker Dan Bailey (groin), as expected. Wide receiver Noah Brown is on the injury report, but he practiced with a thigh injury.
Cowboys at Falcons
3:25 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4