By Dwain Price, NDG Sports Special
That dark cloud hanging over the Dallas Cowboys’ head because of the NFL-imposed six-game suspension to running back Ezekiel Elliott has been lifted.
Well. Sort of.
The NFL suspended Elliott for six games without pay on Aug. 11 for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. A hearing was heard in Sherman on Tuesday on a temporary restraining order to block that suspension until the case can be decided in court. But a ruling on that hearing is not expected until Friday. That means Elliott will be able to play in the Cowboys’ regular season opener Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. against the New York Giants at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium, regardless of the outcome of the hearing.
Before Tuesday’s dramatic court proceedings unfolded, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett went about his business as if he truly expected Elliott to play against the Giants.
“Zeke will practice until someone tells him not to, and the other guys will get ready to play,” Garrett said. “I think Zeke has done an excellent job focusing on what he needs to do to get himself ready to play.”
Elliott’s ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson, accused him of domestic violence — incidents she alleged occurred in July 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. But after an investigation by Columbus authorities, investigators discovered conflicting stories by witnesses, thus no charges were filed.
However, later on, the NFL performed its own investigation into the matter. The results: Elliott was handed a six-game suspension last month by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Elliott and his attorneys appealed the decision, and Tuesday capped a whirlwind day where, for now, Elliott will be able to play against the Giants. However, he still could be suspended from Games 2-7 — depending on what happens Friday.
Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said the court room drama put the Cowboys “through stress that we don’t need to be in right now.” Crawford went on to say: “Hopefully it works out well.
“We need him on the field, so hopefully everything works in his favor.”
The Cowboys chose Elliott with the fourth overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, and he paid immediate dividends. The 6-foot, 228-pounder used his exceptional power and gazelle-like speed to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards.
Elliott’s spectacular performance is why he was named first-team All-Pro while also collecting Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Had Elliott been ineligible to play against the Giants, the Cowboys were prepared to bolster their running attack by employing a combination of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris and Rod Smith.
“We’re ready for whoever is back there,” guard Zack Martin said. “We’ve got a ton of confidence in Alfred and D-Mac and Rod back there.”
Martin acknowledged that regardless of whoever is the Cowboys’ running back, not much changes for the offensive linemen.
“Obviously (Elliott is) a very talented back and when he gets to the second level he does some special things, but so does these other guys,” Martin said. “So for us up front, nothing changes.
“We still have to block our guys and make holes for the guys running.”
Dak not worrying about sophomore letdown
And the offensive line still also have to block for quarterback Dak Prescott, who additionally was very impressive as a rookie last year after being a fourth-draft pick out of Mississippi State. Prescott, who completed 311-of-459 passes (67.8 percent) for 3,667 yards and 23 touchdowns with only four interceptions last season, spent part of the offseason fending off questions about a possible sophomore jinx.
That is, players who have a spectacular rookie season, but somehow just can’t get it together during their second year. Prescott described that analogy as hogwash.
“All I’ve ever known is hard work, and hard work pays off,” Prescott said. “That’s what I did in this offseason and what I’ve done every offseason in my career.”
Behind Prescott and Elliott, the Cowboys won the NFC East last year and tied the franchise record for wins in a season with 13. But they lost the divisional playoff game at home to the Green Bay Packers (34-31), and two of their three regular season losses were to the Giants.
While Prescott knows he’s far from perfect, he admittedly doesn’t focus on improving just one aspect of his game.
“I try to get better at everything at this position,” Prescott said. “It’s hard to say I’m only going to work on this because then you’re letting something else fall behind.
“If I only work on my arm accuracy, then I’m letting my feet down. For me, it’s just about taking everything, figuring out ways to make it my strengths, and then continuing to get better at every aspect of my game.”
Can the Cowboys break Giants win streak?
The Giants have won their last three meetings against the Cowboys. That success came mainly because the Cowboys’ defense couldn’t hold its own.
That defense has its feet to the fire again this season.
“We’re going to control what we can control,” Garrett said. “We control our preparations as players and coaches — and that’s everybody — and you just go to work, and that’s what we’ve been doing since we started the offseason program.
“Obviously it’s a real big challenge against the Giants this week. We respect them a great deal – they’re an awfully good football team.”
Meanwhile, as the Cowboys remain in limbo in regards to Elliott’s playing status beyond Sunday’s game, at least they now know they can focus on having one of the game’s most feared players lining up against one of their NFC East rivals.
“Certainly Zeke has done a lot of good things throughout his career, both in college and in the NFL,’’ Garrett said. “He’s had some situations that have happened off the field as well, and hopefully, like all of us in life, you learn from both of those situations.
“And he’s a smart guy and we’ll go through this process and try to handle it as best as we can from a legal standpoint and fight it the right way. He and his team are doing that. But then you learn from the different experiences you have in life and you move forward.”