One-armed Knife Sharpener
- Apr 7, 2013
By Jon Machota Jul 23, 2021
OXNARD, Calif. — Ezekiel Elliott didn’t try to sugarcoat it on Thursday. The Cowboys running back played poorly in 2020, and he feels he let his teammates down.
To make sure that doesn’t happen again, he spent this offseason putting in extra work with a personal running back coach, helping him slim down to 218 pounds, his lightest weight since his freshman year at Ohio State. He was listed at 228 last season.
“Just having the year I had last year,” Elliott said, “you don’t need more motivation than that. I just know the type of player I am. I don’t think I showed that last year. I got a lot to prove. I just made sure I didn’t leave any doubt out there that I didn’t do as much as I needed to do.”
Elliott did not speak with reporters during organized team activities or minicamp. This was the first time since the season-ending loss to the New York Giants.
The three-time Pro Bowler finished last season with several career lows, including rushing yards (979), yards per carry (4.0), rushing touchdowns (6) and rushes of 20-plus yards (3). The NFL’s rushing champion in 2016 and 2018 said it was difficult watching the game tape from last season.
“I think the hardest part about last year is you kind of feel like you let your teammates down,” he said. “That hurts. I want to make sure that I put my best step forward and do everything I need to do to help this team win.”
Josh Hicks is a Dallas-based personal trainer and running backs coach who has been working with Elliott since the season ended. Hicks and Elliott have posted several videos on social media over the last few months of some of their workouts.
“When I first got him, to me, Zeke’s feet seemed a bit heavy,” Hicks told The Athletic three weeks ago. “They were coming up and off the ground, but not as quick as we needed them to be.”
Elliott said Thursday that he feels quicker.
“He definitely got me right this offseason,” Elliott said of Hicks. “I thank him a lot just for working with me, making it fun and making me a better player.”
The other area that bothered Elliott was his fumbling. He tied a career high with six fumbles in 15 games, the most of any NFL running back last season.
“I’ve never been a fumbler,” Elliott said. “When you carry the ball, you kind of carry the whole hope of the whole team, the whole organization, the whole fan base. If you cough it up and give it to the other team, you’re letting everyone down, so I mean, I think that’s the No. 1 thing, that’s my focus this year, protecting the ball.”
Elliott broke his left wrist at Ohio State. He now usually carries the ball in his right hand, something defenders have attacked.
“But that’s not an excuse, either,” Elliott said. “It’s my job to make sure I don’t fumble it. I’ve just got to focus on that every day in practice, every day in training and just continue to work hard at it and fix it. It doesn’t matter.”
You can see in this clip from Thursday’s practice that Elliott switches the ball from his right to his left hand as rookie linebacker Micah Parsons closes in. Elliott then covers the ball with both hands as he gets near the sideline.
Thirteen months ago, Elliott tested positive for COVID-19. He doesn’t believe any lingering effects impacted his play last season. He has received the vaccine, a decision he said was made to put himself in the best position to be there for his teammates all season.
But he is not encouraging his teammates one way or the other.
“I think that’s kind of a touchy subject,” Elliott said. “You can’t really tell somebody what to do with their body. I grew up in a family where we didn’t get vaccines, so it’s kind of hard to tell someone who their whole life their mom and dad tell them not to get vaccines, to go get vaccinated. It’s everyone’s body; you can’t tell them what to do.”
Elliott, who turned 26 on Thursday, said his close friend and teammate, Dak Prescott, gifted him a diamond bracelet for his birthday. The highlight of Elliott’s 15 minutes talking to reporters was the impression he did of a heavily medicated Prescott when he visited the Cowboys quarterback in the hospital immediately after his season-ending ankle injury in Week 5.
“He was out of it, but he was just like, ‘Feeeeed meeeee,’” Elliott said laughing, referring to the running back’s signature ‘Feed me’ gesture he does after big plays. “I was sad, but that made me feel good. There was never a doubt in my mind that he was going to bounce back from this injury.”
Thursday’s practice was not in full pads, but it was Prescott’s first as a full participant since the injury.
“I knew when it happened that he was going to do anything and everything he had to to get back to this team at 100 percent,” Elliott said, “so he can be the best leader and lead us out there on Sundays. There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that he was going to come back stronger than where he was at.
“The dude’s a beast. He’s a machine. A hell of a leader. So blessed to play with him and ain’t no other quarterback I’d want to go to war with.”