On April 28th, the Dallas Cowboys went and got their guy. This was the night of the 2016 NFL Draft, and the Cowboys cashed in their miserable 2015 campaign for RB Ezekiel Elliott - the fourth overall pick out of Ohio State.
Fast forward to September 11th, when Elliott made his regular season debut against the New York Giants, facing immense pressure to live up to all of the hype around this running back prospect stepping in behind the best offensive line in the world. Zeke went for just 51 yards on 20 carries, and we all focused in just a little bit more on the 21 year old.
With an incredibly limited off season and preseason, Elliott picked things up following this week 1 performance on the road against the Redskins, carrying 21 times for 83 yards and another score. The best sign from this game, besides the fact that the Cowboys picked up a much needed win, was that Elliott began to patiently read his blocks and allow plays to develop - unlike his impatient style in the previous game.
Cowboys Nation couldn't help but smile, as we could feel that Ezekiel Elliott was about to break out. The lights were going to be on in week 3 for Sunday Night Football at home against the Bears, and the rookie would be ready.
30 carries. 140 yards. 4.7 Yards Per Carry.
Zeke stole the show by running all over the depleted Bears defense, showcasing just a little bit of his wide range of skills that made him the most complete running back prospect to enter the NFL Draft in years. He was just getting started.
On Sunday, Dallas fell behind the 49ers on the road 14-0, their largest deficit of the season. Scott Linehan stuck with his running game, because he knew that Ezekiel Elliott would not be denied behind this offensive line.
He was correct.
Zeke ate up yards all game long, getting stronger in the second half on his way to an average of six yards a carry for 138 yards. Once again, I saw Ezekiel Elliott make another big stride towards becoming the player he was at Ohio State.
His vision, power, decisiveness, and footwork were all at their best this season, as Elliott propelled himself to the league lead in rushing yards - just four games into his Dallas Cowboys' career. That is incredible!
Elliott Still Has Plenty of Room for Improvement.
Do me a favor. Think back to the 2014 Cowboys running game with DeMarco Murray. This shouldn't be too hard, positive thoughts of Murray running through massive lanes are filling your head!
Murray was certainly not a complete back, relying on the blockers in front of him to give him space to accelerate and then succeed at the second level with power and great balance.
As Elliott continues to get to the second level, which he essentially gets a "free pass" to behind this offensive line with good chemistry, he will be able to attack defenders with superior power, balance, and most importantly - speed.
The element of Zeke's game that has not translated yet from his Ohio State days is the extra gear of breakaway speed that sets up hopeless defenders on Elliott's way to huge gains.
Elliott is still getting his legs under him when it comes to running the rock in the NFL, but the speed is on its way. An entire new element to Elliott's arsenal is going to make the league's leading rusher even better.
Additionally, the Cowboys offensive line is going to continue to feed off of the way Zeke can punish defenses, and they will improve as a run blocking unit for him as the featured back.
Zeke's last two performances have also come with the Dallas offensive line not at full strength, with all-universe LT Tyron Smith inactive in weeks 3 and 4. La'el Collins won't be back on the field for some time after exiting at halftime against the Bears, making way for Ronald Leary to step in next to Chaz Green at left guard.
Elliott is still dominating behind these guys, who have performed well, but #21 has still proven that he was made to be the running back for America's Team.
The Dallas Cowboys featured back is a 21 year old rookie that leads the NFL in rushing after four games, and they're not afraid to use him. Take notice, world.
What have you seen from Ezekiel Elliott so far, and what are you looking for from him as the season goes on? Let us know! Use the comment section below to talk about Zeke Elliott, or email Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
Will Cowboys WR Noah Brown Do Enough to Make the Roster?
The Dallas Cowboys aren't short on numbers at wide receiver on their current 90-man roster. Looking to replace Dez Bryant and reshape their offense, the Cowboys will have to find the right group of pass catchers for Dak Prescott at their upcoming training camp.
The odd men out from this group will likely be the ones that can't sustain a consistent level of play, doing so across multiple units if needed. All ten receivers will have their flashes, but with only four being true locks to make the team, new Cowboys Wide Receivers Coach Sanjay Lal will be in on some tough decisions right away.
One such decision may be moving on from last year's seventh round pick Noah Brown out of Ohio State. Vouched for by former Buckeyes teammate Ezekiel Elliott thanks to his blocking ability on the outside, it may now be this strength in the run game and deficiency as a pass catcher that spells the end of Brown's run in Dallas.
Normally, a seventh round pick being on the roster bubble wouldn't be this noteworthy, but Brown clearly showed the potential to outplay this draft status as a rookie. Appearing in 13 games, Brown is a true X receiver, although not the dominant one the Cowboys are searching for.
Moving away from fielding a true number one receiver, the Cowboys did sign Allen Hurns to play this spot while prepared to spread the ball around to Williams, Beasley, and Gallup after that.
This leaves Thompson, Wilson, Cannon, Lenoir, McCay, Murdock, and Brown to prove their worth in other ways to make the roster. I've written plenty about the potential rookie Cedrick Wilson has, so I'll be expecting a strong showing from him to earn a role in the Cowboys offense.
Wilson's skill set could push a depth signing like Deonte Thompson off the team, although his ability to back up Cole Beasley/Tavon Austin on special teams is important. The same can be said about Lance Lenoir, who like Brown has the advantage over first year players given his trials through training camp and the preseason a year ago.
Long shots to make the team, Cannon, McCay, and Murdock fall just below this group -- and somewhere in the middle is Noah Brown.
Increasing his role on special teams as the season went on last year, Brown had fans throughout a coaching staff that is now drastically changed for 2018. From their shift to more speed on offense, to drafting of both Gallup and Wilson, calling Brown a fringe player on the Cowboys roster really sets up the fiery competition to come at wide receiver.
Should the Cowboys find a spot for Brown, one can only hope it means this new coaching staff has a clear plan for him to contribute on both offense and special teams outside of being a run blocker. A potential niche for Brown is his red zone ability, not afraid to put his body on the line for jump balls and fight through contact in his routes.
It won't be long until we sort out if this is enough to make the Cowboys as a wide receiver ahead of Quarterback Dak Prescott's third season.
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