Running backs are, some say, a dime a dozen in today's NFL. The Dallas Cowboys pay more than a dime for excellence at the position and still believe that Ezekiel Elliott can be a premier runner entering 2021. And his personal trainer believes the same.
Elliott spent the offseason working at The Star and beyond, hoping to regain his agility and quickness in the open field. Running back trainer Josh Hicks recorded some of his work and compared it to similar work during the regular season.
The difference? Quite extensive.
"He was way quicker, way more elusive, more fluent," Hicks told Jon Machota of The Athletic. "I know he's getting better."
Hicks is based in the Dallas area and has spent the offseason working with Elliott on enhancing his game. Last season, the former first-rounder struggled on all ends to be a game-changer at the position.
Elliott is coming off career lows in rushing yards (979), yards per carry (4.0), and touchdowns. He also fumbled six times for the second time since 2018.
Keep in mind that Elliott is two years removed from being the NFL's leading rusher. Now, some wonder if he is worthy of full-time starting reps. But our Mike Fisher of CowboysSI.com has seen Elliott work in person and reports that Zeke is more "sleek'' as an "east-and-west runner, more like a scatback than at any time since his rookie year.''
And according to Machota, Hicks is sold that the Elliott he started with four months ago is gone. Now, everything has improved — including his "lighter feet.''
"When I first got him, to me, Zeke's feet seemed a bit heavy," Hicks said of Elliott's running style. "They were coming up and off the ground, but not as quick as we need them to be."
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Elliott's down season wasn't all on his shoulders. Injuries did factor in toward a No. 17 finish in rushing for 2020. Dak Prescott was out for the season in Week 5 with an ankle injury. La'El Collins didn't play a snap last fall and Tyron Smith played just two games.
All-Pro guard Zach Martin missed the last six games due to injury while center Travis Frederick retired. Consider the offensive line a turnstile of inexperienced blockers and linemen better suited for second-team.
Adding the O-line trio back should help stabilize the running game, as should the emergence of second-year center Tyler Biadasz.
Prescott said during OTAs that Elliott is in the "best shape of his life" for the start of the new season. As the man under center hopes to return to Pro Bowl form, he believes his running back can as well.
“When Zeke’s healthy and Zeke’s doing his thing, he’s the best running back in the league,” Prescott said last month. “It’s just exciting to see him in the best shape of his life, or best shape he’s been in the NFL. That’s going to be special for us moving forward.”
Hicks said that everyone saw the regression last season as Zeke only recorded three runs of 20-plus yards. But one offseason can do wonders for a career. For Elliott, he still can be a prime rusher for Dallas' offense and a key to a top-five rushing attack come December.
"I don't think Zeke has ever worked like this in the offseason," Hicks told Machota. "I could be mistaken. But me, personally, when it comes to my drills and what I do and how I do it, I know he hasn't worked like this."
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