Is Ezekiel Elliott primed for a big year? Dallas is counting on it.

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott handles a football during the two minute warning in the second quarter of the game between the Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium.Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports


From the outside looking in, it seems like Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott should play like a liberated man when the 2018 season begins on Sunday.

Elliott was a massive question mark heading into 2017 with weekly and sometimes daily reversals in his ongoing legal battle with the NFL. Elliott was suspended for six games for a violation of the NFLs personal-conduct policy during the offseason leading up to last year. Elliott, along with the NFL Players Association, battled the suspension in court, but the Dallas running back still ended up serving the full six games.

Long story short, it wasnt the kind of environment that would allow most people to do their best work.

So with that problem behind him, all eyes are on Elliott to see if he charges out of the blocks on Sunday versus the Carolina Panthers.

On Tuesday, Cowboys right guard Zack Martin increased that kind of anticipation by saying something just feels different in a positive way for Elliott.

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett often said during Elliotts on-again-off-again legal battle last season that the running back stayed focused when he was at the Cowboys facility. He doubled down on that opinion during his Wednesday presser.

From my perception, hes been a very focused guy, Garrett said. Really, hes been that way since Ive known him. Hes serious-minded. He wants to be a great football player and he works hard at it every day.

Whether or not Elliott himself feels better going into this season, Dallas will depend on him to start faster than he did a year ago. Although he rushed for 104 yards in the season-opener against the Giants, he averaged just 69.25 yards per game and 3.6 per carry with 2 touchdowns through the first four contests.

With a revamped passing offense, featuring a handful of new wide receivers, the Cowboys offense figures to lean heavily on Elliott at the start.

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UPDATE: Zeke was asked about his preparation for this season after practice today and acknowledged that he's entering this season with a chip on his shoulder to show he's the best RB in the NFL.