Alfred Morris struck the same defiant tone from the last time the Dallas running back was preparing to replace suspended star Ezekiel Elliott. Roughly the same answer, too, heading into Sunday’s game at Atlanta.
“I’ve treated every single day like I have the past six years,” Morris said Friday, a day after a court rejected Elliott’s latest bid to delay a six-game suspension over alleged domestic violence. “Nothing changes for me. It’s just, ‘OK, it’s another start. OK. It’s fine.’ The ups and downs, they really didn’t matter to me.”
Early last week, Morris thought he would get his first start since 2015 in place of Elliott before a judge granted an emergency request to put the suspension on hold.
So Morris was the backup who got one carry while the NFL’s second-leading rusher had 93 yards and the go-ahead touchdown in a 28-17 win over Kansas City.
Early this week, Morris was behind Elliott again until the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ended Elliott’s last hope to avoid missing games.
So Morris showed up Friday as the apparent starter, although the Cowboys (5-3) haven’t officially declared him as such against the Falcons. Dallas plays four games before Elliott’s next hearing Dec. 1.
“I never know when I’m going to touch the field,” said Morris, who had 70 of his 116 yards rushing this season on one carry in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams. “Sunday, I have a better idea at least how it’s going to start the game off. We’ll see how everything plays out. Of course I’m excited to get more snaps and more carries, get more opportunities to help my team win.”
Morris ran for 1,613 yards as a rookie with Washington in 2012. He was no longer the featured back for the Redskins when he chose the Cowboys in free agency last year, about two months before Elliott was drafted fourth overall and went on to lead the NFL in rushing as a rookie.
The 28-year-old Morris was a somewhat surprising choice as the backup when the season started because Darren McFadden led Dallas in rushing in 2015. That was a year after the Cowboys let 2014 rushing leader DeMarco Murray go in free agency.
McFadden was inactive the first eight games — a first for the 10th-year back who was the fourth overall pick by Oakland eight years before Elliott.
The Cowboys will now answer the question of whether they had McFadden in safe keeping while they waited for the Elliott suspension in a case that’s been weaving through the courts for two months.
“It’s one of those things of people knew eventually something was going to happen with this situation,” said McFadden, who had his second 1,000-yard season two years ago. “It happened this week. For us, we’re going to come together as a team and just go out there and ball.”
Dallas also likes seldom-used Rod Smith, who secured a spot on the roster thanks in part to special teams but could get a longer look at running back if the Cowboys try the committee approach.
Whoever’s back there, the Cowboys still have one of the NFL’s best offensive lines with three first-round picks and three-time Pro Bowl choices in left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin.
Smith didn’t practice all week and has been ruled out against the Falcons with back and groin injuries. Chaz Green would start in Smith’s place.
“We know as running backs what we can do,” McFadden said. “The team’s been around us. They know what we can do out there. I don’t have to say much.”
It’s all the same to Morris.