Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott appears set for the only game he is expected to get until his suspension over a domestic violence incident ends in late October.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said Thursday he was leaning toward Elliott playing the preseason game against Oakland on Saturday night, with a plan similar to Elliott’s only exhibition appearance as a rookie. He had seven carries for 48 yards on 14 snaps at Seattle last year before he became the NFL’s leading rusher.
Elliott faces a six-game suspension after the NFL concluded he used physical force against his girlfriend at the time last summer in Columbus, Ohio, where Elliott starred for Ohio State. Elliott has denied wrongdoing, and an appeal hearing is set for next week. If the ruling stands, Elliott will go on the suspended list the first week of the regular season and be eligible to return to the active roster Oct. 23.
The Cowboys didn’t use Elliott in the first three preseason games, but he’s been a full participant throughout training camp. Last year, he missed a large portion of the preseason because of a hamstring injury before rushing for 1,631 yards and helping the Cowboys to a 13-3 record.
Garrett has maintained that the preseason plan with Elliott had nothing to do with the looming suspension.
“I think the biggest thing is just having the mindset of preparing him for Week 1 of the season,” Garrett said. “That’s the approach we’ve taken with him and anything beyond that we’ll take as it comes.”
Elliott and most or all of the starters are likely to sit in the preseason finale at Houston, as is the case with most teams. Elliott hasn’t spoken to reporters since the start of training camp.
Assuming Elliott plays, he’ll share the backfield with quarterback Dak Prescott for the first time since his fellow first-year sensation edged Elliott for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors last season.
Even though Elliott just turned 22, the Cowboys are already mindful of the workload of the player who delivered on the promise of being the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft.
“You hand them the ball 20 to 25 times in a game and they tackled 20 to 25 times in a game and they get hit probably twice as many more times,” Garrett said. “So you balance that, putting them at risk in that regard with getting them ready to play.”
Prosecutors declined to pursue the case against Elliott last year, and the NFL reached its conclusions after a yearlong investigation.
Elliott made other headlines for behavior off the field, including pulling down a woman’s shirt during a St. Patrick’s Day parade. The league referenced that incident in its letter detailing Elliott’s punishment.
“His spirits are up,” receiver Dez Bryant said. “Zeke is fine. I know from what he’s shown us, he’s outstanding.”