Dallas Cowboys

All pretenses are off: Ezekiel Elliott is Cowboys starting running back

Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) has ascended to the top of the pecking order with the injury to Darren McFadden.
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) has ascended to the top of the pecking order with the injury to Darren McFadden. Star-Telegram

The Cowboys drafted Ezekiel Elliott to be their starting running back. He was going to take over the job at some point before the start of the season.

But Elliott’s ascension came sooner than expected with the injury to Darren McFadden.

With McFadden out for two months after undergoing surgery on a fractured right elbow, Elliott got all the first-team reps Tuesday. It will remain that way barring injury.

“It just means more reps with the first team, but you hate seeing one of your guys go down,” Elliott said. “You hate to see one of your warriors wounded. But he’s going to be around a lot. He’s going to get back as soon as possible.”

McFadden and Elliott split the first-team reps through most of the offseason. But McFadden injured his elbow in a fall at home on Memorial Day weekend and missed part of the organized team activities that week.

And now, McFadden will sit for awhile.

Thus the job, for all intents and purposes, now belongs to Elliott, with McFadden’s injury putting Elliott on the fast track.

“I think it’s going to be real big for him, really beneficial, because now he’s forced to go in and do it,” Cowboys running backs coach Gary Brown said of Elliott getting more first-team snaps. “He’s forced to go in there to perform and perform at a high level. He can’t rest on his leader maybe helping him a little bit. He has to rest on himself. So it’s going to be a good thing.”

Elliott rushed for 3,961 yards and 43 touchdowns in his three-year career at Ohio State. He prides himself on being a three-down back with blocking skills and receiving skills to match his running skills.

“I would hate to overstate anything at this point,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “But he is a full-package running back. There is really not a time I would feel uncomfortable with him being the game right now, which is unusual for a rookie. Over my years, I have had some really good running backs. But there were certain areas of the game where you would say if we do this that is not his cup of tea. But I think Zeke is well rounded. I don't think there is ever a down or distance or situation where he can't carry the load. Obviously, we have other guys who are going to do it, but we will lean heavily on this young kid.”

Elliott still is learning the offense, but he is learning it quickly.

“Obviously the more reps he gets, the slower it will become,” Brown said. “With Darren missing some time, his learning curve will accelerate, and it’ll slow down real slow now because he has to go out there and do it every snap. It’s going to be a positive for him.”

Elliott said any rep is a good rep, even mental reps. The Cowboys are throwing the offense at him slowly, and Elliott said everything is beginning to slow down. But Elliott admits he still has a lot to learn.

“They’ve been throwing bits and pieces of it at us every day, so I don’t even know what I don’t know,” Elliott said. “I know what I know I know pretty well. I’m coming along good. The game is slowing down, and I’m getting more acclimated. Every day gets a little bit easier.”