When minicamp ends on Thursday, the Dallas Cowboys will have roughly five weeks off before reporting to training camp in Oxnard, California, on July 24.
Running backs coach Gary Brown already has given his prize pupil, Ezekiel Elliott, his marching orders for his time away and his charge for the season.
Brown's message is simple — get in great shape and get ready to dominate because Elliott will be counted on to do the heavy lifting on offense early due to the unproven nature of the team’s receivers and passing game as a result of the departures of tight end Jason Witten (retired) and receiver Dez Bryant (released).
“To come in and be in the greatest shape of your life and get ready to dominate because we understand what the game plan is going to be for these defenses early in the year,” said Brown when asked what he has told Elliott. “Until our receivers start killing these guys cause we are not getting enough respect. We have a lot of great receivers out here; he is going to have to deal with a lot of loaded boxes. So come in and be in the best shape of your life. Be ready to get a lot of carries early. It is going to be a situation where defenses are going to try to stop us. They are going to try their best but they are not going to be able to."
Brown believes Elliott is up for the challenge. Elliott already has said he expects a big year.
He is certainly motivated to make up for what he feels was a lost season in 2017 when he missed six games due to an NFL suspension after fighting with the league in federal court through the first eight games.
Brown says Elliott has been changed by his experiences over the last year. He has matured. He has taken on a leadership role on the team. But he also wants to take advantage of an opportunity to develop into one of the best backs in NFL history.
“Last year changed him a lot,” Brown said. “He realizes this is a very special opportunity that he has, especially to (be) one of the best backs to every play. He has that opportunity. He understands that now. He is going to take advantage of everything he does. … Zeke is in a really good place right now.”
After rushing for 1,631 yards as a rookie in 2016, Elliott rushed for 983 yards in 10 games last season.
If he plays a full 16 games, combined by a heavier workload as a runner and receiver, there is a chance Elliott could put up historic numbers in 2018. Owner Jerry Jones already has said he expects a big season from a stress-free Elliott.
Brown, however, wouldn’t bite when asked if Eric Dickerson’s NFL single-season rushing record of 2,105 was attainable.
He said he wasn’t trying to make any headlines as their only focus is doing what it takes to win games.
But Brown readily acknowledges looking forward to getting Elliott on the field and watching him dominate in 2018.