A lot has changed for Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott since he was suspended for six games last season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy for allegedly committing domestic violence against a former girlfriend.
Elliott has gone from the dark place of dealing with a 13-month NFL investigation, a two-month battle in federal court and the suspension to using his ordeal as a life lesson and motivation to make amends on the field for the Cowboys.
A maturing Elliott has led the Cowboys to the top of the NFC East with MVP-caliber play and has emerged as a team leader in the locker room.
So what advice does Elliott have for Washington Redskins linebacker Reuben Foster and former Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt, who both have been recently placed on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s exempt list because of accusations of domestic violence?
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“Just focus on your day to day life, making sure you’re winning the next day,” Elliott said. “When you start looking down the road, you can kind of get bogged down. Just make sure you focus on the day to day and doing better day to day and things are going to work themselves out.”
Things have certainly worked out for Elliott, who is second in the NFL in rushing with 1,149 yards and leads the Cowboys with a career-high 53 receptions.
Even more to the point, Elliott has set the tone for the Cowboys with his vocal leadership, which is a change from the past when he often would let his play do the talking for him.
It was Elliott who said the Cowboys were in must-win mode heading into the first game against Philadelphia when they were left for dead at 3-5 and then promptly sparked a four-game winning streak with the first of three consecutive 100-yard games.
Now that the Cowboys (7-5) are in first place in NFC East heading into Sunday’s rematch against the Eagles (6-6), Elliott has impressed upon the entire team that nothing has changed and they must keep the same mindset.
“Honestly, we’re in the same position that we were when we were 3-5,” Elliott said Wednesday. “We need to go out here and win the rest of these ball games so we can have a chance to make a run in this playoff. It’s just having that same mentality.”
Elliott has also spurred the Cowboys with his speeches and by leading the chants in the pre-game huddle. He has had to come out of his comfort zone and be more vocal because of the offseason departures of veterans like Jason Witten and Dez Bryant and constant injuries to linebacker Sean Lee.
“I wouldn’t say it makes it easier, I just think it makes you have to,” Elliott said. “Because, why would I give the pregame speech if Witt’s going to give it, you know what I mean? So I just think it kind of forced me.”
At 23, he truly is one of the veteran leaders on a decidedly young team because of his stature and tenure. And he has accepted his new role like a leader should and would.
“I love trying to get these guys going, trying to motivate them,” Elliott said. “I love trying to get them ready for games. It’s fun, it’s something I’ve embraced.”