FRISCO -- It's been more than eight months since Ezekiel Elliott last played in a football game, but the star running back doesn't think that will be a problem when he returns to action in the Cowboys' season-opener this Sunday at Carolina.
"I'm young, I've got fresh legs, I'm going to grind it out," says Elliott. "I want to prove I'm the best back in the game, and that's what my focus this offseason was."
And unlike last year, when he spent the first two months of the season trying to fight a league suspension for an off-field issue before finally giving in and sitting out six games, he's able to run free this season.
"It is a lot more stress-free, I will say that."
His head coach sees the difference.
"I thought he handled the distractions really well last year," says Jason Garrett. "There was a lot of stuff going around in his life that he had to deal with, and I thought, for the most part, when he was here he was pretty locked in and doing what he needed to do. Now that that's behind him I think you see him that much more focused, that much more ready to go."
And Zeke had better be ready to go. With Dez Bryant and Jason Witten no longer around, Dallas' offense will rely even more on Elliott than in his first two seasons, during which he led the NFL in average rushing yards per game. That could be a challenge with two new linemen blocking for him in career backup Joe Looney and rookie Connor Williams, but Elliott is confident in his crew.
"I think we've done a great job in camp syncing together and getting comfortable with each other. But we've got to go out there and execute. That's what it comes down to."
We'll see how it goes down Sunday afternoon! Game time is 3:25.