OXNARD, Calif. — During the second half of last season, it was clear that something was wrong with Ezekiel Elliott. After changing and adding to his offseason training, he showed quickness, speed, and power similar to what he had as a No. 4 overall pick rookie in 2016, when he shook up the league.
However, as the season went on, he started to look slower, more deliberate, and unable to make the same cuts. At the end of the season, we found out the truth, which was that the two-time NFL rushing champion had a torn PCL in his knee but kept playing anyway.
Elliott’s knee injury, which the team called a “generic knee injury” at the time, kept him on the sidelines for a long time. The team ignored calls to sit Elliott so that he could heal and be in better shape for a possible playoff run.
Elliott’s gladiator-like efforts led to his fourth 1,000-yard rushing season in six tries (he almost got 6/6 in that category), but in the playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers on NFL Super Wild Card Weekend, he ran for just 31 yards on 12 carries and caught just one pass for no gain. After the Cowboys’ first official training camp practice on Wednesday in Oxnard, the three-time Pro Bowler said he lost a step or two as the injury got worse.
“I’d say it was just my burst,” he said. “It definitely limited my burst. I think the stiffness, keeping it warm on the sideline, but mostly just the burst…. I think it was different from week to week, and it also kind of depended on if I got hit on my knee or not. So, just game to game, week to week, how much I got hit in it.”
Elliott still thinks that playing didn’t make it worse, and he talks about why he took the risk in the first place. The former All-Pro said, “I mean, even before I got the big contract when I was on a rookie deal, I didn’t miss any games because of injury.” “So, I just think that as a football player, as an individual, and as a competitor, I want to be out there. I want to be out there for my team, and I think that’s it.”
Elliott didn’t need surgery to fix his torn PCL; he just needed to rest (see above for the decision to sit him and let him rest during the season). Now, he’s fully healthy and, most importantly, as confident as he was before the injury when he looked like the 2016 All-Pro version of himself.
Elliott said, “At the beginning of the offseason, I was a little worried, like, ‘Damn, this thing still feels a little iffy.’ But a month or two into the offseason, a month or two of getting back to work, and I’d say by the time OTAs came around, I was back to 100 percent.” “It definitely helped me get back some of my confidence because it’s hard to be hurt and feel like you’ve lost a step.
“So, it helped me get back to moving at the speed I was used to and just give myself, my body, and my mind the confidence that I could make those cuts again.”
The Cowboys’ offseason has been wild and crazy. Quarterback Ezekiel Elliott has seen the team trade away four-time Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper, let go of starting right tackle La’el Collins, and lose starting defensive end Randy Gregory in free agency. All of these moves were made because of availability issues, according to team owner Jerry Jones.
Elliott has one of the biggest contracts left on the team. His $16.7 million salary will hit the team’s salary cap in 2023. Do Jones’ comments about availability make Elliott more likely to do what he did in 2021 and play in all 18 games, even though his knee told him to rest a bit? In other words, does Elliott go into the 2022 season afraid he could be next to be cut?
If so, he isn’t showing it. Instead, he is focused on the day-to-day work of climbing back up the RB mountain and making a deep playoff run this time.
Elliott said, “I think this is a big season.” “But I don’t think you should look too far ahead. I think if I focus on each day, try to have a good day at camp, and take it one week at a time, I’ll be able to do it. I think that everything will work out on its own.
“I don’t see much reason to look that far ahead. If I take care of my business every day, I should be in a pretty good place by the end of the season,” he said.