FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Ezekiel Elliott knows it will be weird to return so soon as a New England running back to the place where he starred alongside quarterback Dak Prescott for seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.
The two-time rushing champion also knows he has always had a handle on his emotions, a trait that will be tested assuming there’s a massive roar from more than 90,000 fans who used to howl “Zeeeeeeeeke,” as their beloved back turned his hand in front of his mouth in a “feed me” gesture after first-round runs.
Elliott returns to the home of the Cowboys on Sunday, confident he can keep the focus on football but knowing he hasn’t stepped into such a scene before.
“There are emotions,” Elliott said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters who cover the Cowboys. “I may do a good job of hiding them, but there will be some emotions. But I’ve got to go out there and help my team win that football game.”
Elliott wasn’t much interested in rehashing his offseason release in a cost-cutting move by the Cowboys. “Business is business,” he said.
A slow start with the Patriots after a short training camp is turning around. Elliott rushed for a season-high 80 yards in a 15-10 win against the Jets. And the Cowboys just gave up 222 yards on the ground.
The former Ohio State star is wearing his college No. 15 again after picking No. 21 with the Cowboys, who drafted him fourth overall in 2016.
Elliott will ride a team bus to the visiting locker room on the other side of AT&T Stadium. After the game, he won’t be waiting for reporters on the home side, which was the routine for his 52 games there.
“I don’t know what I’m necessarily expecting,” Elliott said. “It’s definitely going to be weird, just being in a different uniform, being in the visiting locker room. But I think it will be a good experience just kind of seeing the fans again.”
Elliott won rushing titles twice in his first three seasons with the Cowboys, and was an All-Pro as a rookie while Prescott edged him for AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
The 28-year-old is third on Dallas’ career rushing list with 8,262 yards, behind a pair of Pro Football Hall of Famers in NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett.
By the time Mike McCarthy took over as coach in 2020, Elliott’s most productive and explosive days in Dallas were behind him. He was still the go-to back on the goal line, though, scoring 28 touchdowns in those three seasons, including 12 in 2022.
McCarthy remembers his first impression, when he was Green Bay’s coach and Elliott ran by him on the sideline during his rookie season.
“I just remember as he ran by me for a long run, I thought, ‘My God, that guy’s got a big head. That’s a big man,’” McCarthy said. “I’ve always been so impressed with him. He was just such a big, physical runner.”
The Cowboys (2-1) have converted touchdowns on just three of 11 trips inside the 20-yard line the past two weeks, so the question of missing Elliott will be one of the topics against the Patriots (1-2).
For his part, Elliott believes he has something left after signing a one-year contract worth at least $3 million with incentives that could double the value.
“I’ve got plenty left in the tank,” Elliott said. “I think I’m a very good back.”
Tony Pollard replaced Elliott as the lead back after four seasons as his understudy. He leads the NFL in carries and touches through three weeks.
Elliott’s days of the heavy workload were mostly gone by the time Pollard arrived, but Pollard watched Elliott maintain the lead role even as his own production started surpassing his mentor’s.
“He’s had a great influence on me playing this game, just watching him, just watching how he does things, how he approaches things, his preparation throughout the week,” Pollard said. “Just trying to pick his brain, growing with him over time.”
Elliott has shared the workload with Rhamondre Stevenson in his brief time with the Patriots. There doesn’t figure to be any sharing of the spotlight Sunday.
“He’s probably in my time, our time together, was clearly probably one of the most popular players,” McCarthy said. “I mean, he’s a tremendous teammate. He still is. His name usually comes up once a week.”
It’s coming up a little more often this week.
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