The calling card for the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2018 - amidst all of the changes this unit has gone through - will be the same as it was the last time the Cowboys reached the playoffs. Winning 19 of 25 games that both Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott have played in, Elliott's return for a full season warrants plenty of excitement.
It took the loss of not only Elliott but Left Tackle Tyron Smith last season for Prescott to regress in his second season, leading to the worst win total of his young career at 9-7. Ever since Dak took the starting job in 2016, the Cowboys have done nothing but instill confidence in their quarterback of the future, expecting Elliott to be reliably alongside him at all times.
Leading the league in rushing with 1,631 yards on 322 carries as the fourth overall pick two seasons ago, Zeke Elliott will be looking to remind everyone how dominant of a back he truly is. Prior to serving his six game suspension, Elliott was averaging 24 carries a game (up from 21.5 in 2016) with 783 yards to show for it on the ground.
While his quarterback will be most affected by the turnover the Cowboys are experiencing at wide receiver, Elliott is joined by Tavon Austin and potentially Bo Scarbrough in a new-look RBs room as well. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan and the Cowboys are hopeful that their newfound versatility on offense will allow them to be less predictable.
This is what also makes Ezekiel Elliott such a special player. It is expected that he will lead the way for the Cowboys offense, and is still able to control a game behind Dallas' star-studded line. The Cowboys absolutely can't lose sight of what a motivated Elliott can do in 2018.
If using the 24 attempts per game figure from above through a full 16 game schedule, Elliott would tote the rock 360 times. This number would have led the league by 39 carries in 2017, with Le'Veon Bell going for 321 attempts.
Exactly what constitutes an "attempt" in the Cowboys diverse offense has been a highly debated topic as of late, based on Stephen Jones' comments on another RBs usage - Tavon Austin. Acquired from the Rams during the draft, the Cowboys view Austin as a running back that will reportedly get up to a dozen such "attempts" per game this season.
Never carrying the ball more than 10 times in a game over his five years in the league, Austin's chances to use his speed will likely come in ways that Elliott is not as adept at. With one roster spot, the Cowboys have a player to handle jet sweeps, C.O.P back touches, receptions, and punt returns in Austin.
It's very possible we see both Elliott and Austin on the field together in select packages for the Cowboys this season. Where Austin can come off the field though, Elliott can always be trusted as a dominant blocker and underused receiver.
I have my own doubts about Zeke's role as a pass catcher expanding in 2018, as the Cowboys will also have to justify keeping Rod Smith as another backup RB - outside of his special teams contributions. Even new Fullback Jamize Olawale has shown the ability to catch the ball comfortably out of the backfield.
This is all the more reason to prepare for Elliott to absolutely hammer defenses on the ground.
The Cowboys are prepared arguably better than ever to control games with their rushing attack, using this year's 50th overall pick on Left Guard Connor Williams. Watching this team adapt on offense each week while still relying on a bell cow runner is going to make Dak Prescott's third-year a fascinating one.
This is an offense that should absolutely be good enough to get the Cowboys back into playoff contention. It always has been when Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are on the field. Scott Linehan may have a lot more to worry about this year around these cornerstones, along with the pressure to keep his job long-term, but it should be easy for him to call his best player's number early and often in 2018.
Ezekiel Elliott himself will see to it.
Report: Center Travis Frederick Undergoing Shoulder Evaluation
After missing the team's walkthrough this morning, it is being reported that Dallas Cowboys starting center Travis Frederick is having his shoulder evaluated due to multiple stingers. According to reports, Frederick has been dealing with stingers all training camp, and the Cowboys are unsure what is wrong with his shoulder.
Frederick rarely misses any practice time at all, and has not missed a start since he entered the league in 2013. He's the catalyst of this offensive line, and will be greatly missed if his injury is severe enough to make him miss regular season game time.
Jason Garrett says Travis Frederick is getting his shoulder looked at in Los Angeles. He's been dealing with stingers. No update behind that #cowboyswire
Joe Looney has been tasked with replacing Frederick for the time being, taking first team center reps during today's walk through and practice.
Given how meaningless Saturday's game is, I'd expect Looney to start at center against the Bengals this weekend as well. Hopefully the evaluation reveals that Frederick's issues are not serious and he will be ready for game one, but consistent stingers will always make fans fear for the worst.
Cowboys G Marcus Martin Needs Surgery; Impact on 53-Man Roster
Marcus Martin, the veteran guard Dallas signed as a free agent last March, suffered a potential season-ending injury in the team's preseason opener last Thursday night. Just how long he'll be out is still be determined, but it still should impact the Cowboys' final 53-man roster this season.
Martin tore ligaments in his right big toe against the 49ers. However, as of yesterday, it was not decided if he would pursue surgery.
The Cowboys don't expect backup OG Marcus Martin to play this season after he tore ligaments in his big toe in the preseason opener, but he's seeking a 2nd opinion before deciding whether to have surgery. Martin signed a 1-year deal with Dallas as a free agent this offseason.
A former third-round pick in 2014, the 24-year-old was brought in as a potential reserve at both guard at center. He was still in competition with Joe Looney and others for a roster spot, though, and his minimal one-year contract suggested nothing was guaranteed.
Even if Martin doesn't have surgery, he is almost sure to miss the start of the season. Dallas would likely place him on injured reserve, but still have the option to recall him after Week 8.
Marcus' absence all but guarantees that Looney will return in 2018. This will be his third year in the system and his ability to play center is critical.
In my 53-man roster projection last week, I had both Looney and Martin making the team. So if I had that right, that means a spot has opened up for probably fifth-year veteran Kadeem Edwards, who was playing with the second unit in the preseason opener.
The notorious Chaz Green, who has played guard at times, could also be the beneficiary of the open roster spot.
Damien Mama, an undrafted free agent in 2017 who Dallas added this offseason, is the only other guard currently on the roster. We should get to see more of him as the preseason continues.
Marcus Martin's availability, or lack thereof, and how it ultimately impacts the roster will be determined in the coming weeks.
LB Jaylon Smith 100% Healthy Entering 2018 Season
If you need any more reason to be excited about the Dallas Cowboys upcoming 2018 season, then look no further than their 2016 second-round draft pick, Jaylon Smith. His comeback story from the devastating knee injury he sustained in his last collegiate game at Notre Dame has been well-documented, but recent news suggests his journey has finally come full circle.
Once considered a top-five pick, Smith saw his draft stock plummet due to concerns he may never be able to step foot on the field ever again. Fortunately, the Dallas Cowboys were willing to gamble he would be able to make a full recovery and once again become the player he was with the Fighting Irish.
The long and grueling rehab process couldn't have been easy to endure. Jaylon Smith was forced to pretty much redshirt his rookie season and played on a pitch count Year 2 while he continued to rehab, waiting for nerve regeneration that may never fully heal.
Luckily for him, he joined a team with a really good support system both on and off the field. A support system that just so happened to include his brother, Running Back Rod Smith. It's that support system that could have made a huge difference in his approach to rehab. An approach that may have finally paid off.
All reports indicate Jaylon Smith is 100% healthy once again, or as close to it as possible. Rod Smith, his brother, said Jaylon is back to being as good as he was at Notre Dame. Jaylon however said he is even better than he was. But, they are not the only ones weighing in on Smith's health.
Scouting Director Will McClay went on 103.3 FM ESPN Radio Monday morning and declared LB Jaylon 100 percent healthy from the injury he suffered in college that kept him out his rookie season in 2016 and had him on a pitch count in 2017.
Will McClay isn't the only one that has noticed a difference in Jaylon Smith. Head Coach Jason Garrett has said Smith has grown leaps and bounds from last year and are treating him like a player with no limitations.
"Again, he worked hard in his rehab. Coming into this off-season he was able to take that brace off. I think that's freed him up a little bit," Garrett said.
"And he just looks much more natural. So again, you'll have to ask him that very question, but from our point of view, he looks like he's moving around really well, changing direction really well, making a lot of plays. I think he's gaining more confidence with each day. We really don't have a plan for him right now. He's full-go and ready to practice every day with no limitation."
All of these accounts certainly make it sound like Jaylon Smith's arrow is trending upwards and that he is as healthy as he has been since joining the Dallas Cowboys.
Luckily, we don't have long to see him in action. I don't know about you, but Thursday night when the Cowboys take on the San Francisco 49ers in the Week 1 of the NFL Preseason can't get here soon enough.
Are you excited to see a 100% healthy Jaylon Smith this season?
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