Ezekiel Elliott admits being “shellshocked” after practicing with the veterans. As the No. 4 overall choice, the running back likely has no idea what to expect during his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Darren McFadden knows.
Elliott is following in the cleat marks of McFadden, the No. 4 overall choice of the Oakland Raiders in 2008.
“Coming in as the fourth overall pick is going to be a lot of weight on your shoulders,” said McFadden, who signed with the Cowboys as a free agent a year ago. “But I feel like it’s something he can handle. He’s been doing a great job in OTAs [organized team activities]. He’s a hard worker. He knows his plays, and that’s one of the main things for a running back.”
McFadden opened his rookie season as the starter, but veteran Justin Fargas eventually won back the job. Fargas finished with a team-leading 853 rushing yards in 2008, while McFadden made five starts and rushed for 499 yards and four touchdowns.
“I was just coming in and trying to learn the ropes from the older guys,” McFadden said. “Justin Fargas was a guy who showed me that. He definitely did a great job and helped mold me into the player I am today.”
Elliott is working with the second team in OTAs, but it seems only a matter of time before he takes over the starting job from McFadden. McFadden, though, isn’t going to concede the job.
“He’s going to compete,” running backs coach Gary Brown said of McFadden. “He’s our starter. He’s going to compete. Zeke has to earn it. I think that’s the best thing for our team and for those guys going forward.”
The Cowboys spent a high choice on Elliott despite McFadden’s ranking fourth in the league with 1,089 yards last season. McFadden, who turns 29 in August, has played all 16 games each of the past two seasons after an injury-plagued first six seasons.
Still, McFadden took no offense to the Cowboys’ draft-day decision.
“I’ve been around the game long enough that I know there’s always going to be a new guy coming in whether they had picked him up in the fourth round or fifth or sixth or first round,” McFadden said. “I know the game. … I’m getting older, so I know there’s definitely going to have to be somebody to come in and take over.”
While competing with Elliott, McFadden has taken the rookie under his wing. Fargas did the same for him, McFadden said, so the former Arkansas standout wants to pay it forward.
“He’s just a pro,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of McFadden. “He’s a pro in everything that he does, and we are really fortunate to have him on our team. He’s a really good football player. He did a really good job last year, taking advantage of the opportunity that we gave him as the year went on. I thought that was a really good thing for our team to see a veteran player like that get himself ready for the opportunity and when it presented itself to take advantage of it as much as he did.
“His work ethic is outstanding. The example he sets, about how to go about your business in meetings, in walk-throughs, in practice is outstanding, not only for the other running backs but for the rest of our team.”
But do the Cowboys have enough carries to satisfy all their running backs?
They re-signed third-down back Lance Dunbar and signed free agent Alfred Morris, who has three 1,000-yard rushing seasons in his four seasons in the league.
Executive vice president Stephen Jones said the Cowboys turned down trade offers for their running backs during the draft.
In 2014 when DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards, he had 392 of the team’s 508 rushes. Joseph Randle had 51 and Dunbar 29.
Barring an injury to Elliott, it seems unlikely McFadden comes close to the 239 carries he received last season. McFadden seems unconcerned.
“He looks fresh,” Brown said of McFadden. “I think at the end of the year he wore down a little bit, but he’s strong. He’s ready to go. He took better care of himself this off-season. He’s ready to go whenever we need him.”
Dallas Cowboys schedule
Saturday, Aug. 13 at Los Angeles Rams, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Friday, Aug. 19 vs. Miami, 7 p.m., (KTVT/11)
Thursday, Aug. 25 at Seattle, 9 p.m. (KTVT/11)
Thursday, Sept. 1 vs. Houston, 7 p.m. (KTVT/11)
Sunday, Sept. 11 vs. New York Giants, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Sept. 18 at Washington, Noon, (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Sept. 25 vs. Chicago, 7:30 p.m. (KXAS/5)
Sunday, Oct. 2 at San Francisco, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Oct. 9 vs. Cincinnati, 3:25 p.m. (KTVT/11)
Sunday, Oct. 16 at Green Bay, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Oct. 23 Bye
Sunday, Oct. 30 vs. Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. (KXAS/5)
Sunday, Nov. 6 at Cleveland, Noon, (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Nov. 13 at Pittsburgh, 3:25 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Sunday, Nov. 20 vs. Baltimore, Noon (KTVT/11)
Thursday, Nov. 24 vs. Washington, 3:30 p.m. (KDFW/4)
Thursday, Dec. 1 at Minnesota, 7:25 p.m. (KXAS/5, NFL Network and Twitter)
Sunday, Dec. 11 at New York Giants, 7:30 p.m. (KXAS/5)
Sunday, Dec. 18 vs. Tampa Bay, Noon, (KDFW/4)
Monday, Dec. 26 vs. Detroit, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Sunday, Jan. 1 at Philadelphia, Noon (KDFW/4)