Careers Eerily Similar For Both Ekuban, Ellis

to keep that strength up. I have to do extra work to keep that calf strong. I have to keep on top of that."

One person who knows the injury all too well is Ellis, who suffered a torn Achilles midway through his ninth pro season back in 2006.

Ekuban said he talked to several players who had suffered the injury, but no one more than Ellis.

"I used to talk to Greg about once a week," Ekuban said. "Prior to having the surgery and then afterwards I talked to him a lot for some advice. I also talked to guys like Brandon Stokely and former players - Alfred Williams. I've had a lot of information and knowledge on how to try and come back from it."

Of course, like all injuries, every case is different. Typically a 12-month rehab, Ellis tried to return for the start of training camp in 2007, but pain in his calf kept him out of action until the fourth regular-season game.

"I told Eb, if there is a good thing about this injury, it's that yours happened at the beginning of the season, whereas mine happened in the middle of the season," Ellis said. "He's more on the time schedule to come back for the first of the year."

Not sure if Ekuban is coming back because he has something to prove. In my less-than-five-minute conversation this week after a Cowboys-Broncos practice, I didn't get the sense that Ekuban is trying to show he still has the skills to play at a high level.

Now that might be the case. I just got the sense that he wants to play football.

Ekuban says he's matured a bit, more as a player, as he enters the later stages of his career. He knows he didn't meet the expectations that were placed on him, but Ekuban's only regret is that he wished he'd spent less time trying to please others, including coaches and critics, and spent more time enjoying the sport.

"It's tough anywhere you go. Any time you're a first-round pick and you don't produce early on, people are going to throw around that 'bust' word," Ekuban said. "I think sometimes first-round picks put more pressure on ourselves than we need to. I think that was my problem in Dallas. I tried a little too hard to do what people thought I should do instead of just having fun, relaxing and playing football. I try to tell some of the young guys the same thing. Be consistent and have fun. The game will come to you."

Unfortunately for Ekuban, and even Ellis too, what didn't come as often as people would've liked is the number of sacks.

Ekuban recorded just 12 ½ sacks in five seasons with the Cowboys. While he didn't give up excuses, Ellis didn't mind doing so.

"A lot of it is the scheme that we played when he was there," Ellis said. "It wasn't a sack-friendly defense, to say the least. It wasn't a skill-thing, but a scheme-thing. Our priority back then was to hunker down and stop the run. If you play-action pass us, we're going to play that run very hard and it cut down on a lot of sack opportunities. And the fans would always say, 'Well, they don't get a lot of sacks.' That got frustrating for both of us."

But whether it was the scheme or the way he butted heads with then-coach Bill Parcells, Ekuban said he has nothing but respect for the Cowboys.

"The Cowboys treated me well. They gave me a great opportunity to start my career and I probably wouldn't be here where I am if they hadn't done that," Ekuban said. "Of course, Parcells and I really never saw eye-to-eye on a lot of things. That's just what the job entails. You still go out and work hard. But no, not one ounce of bitterness to the Cowboys organization. They gave me a fresh start. If it wasn't for them, who knows where I'd be?"

For now, Ekuban is still playing. And it appears his passion for the game is high, maybe even higher than ever.

And since his career has paralleled with Ellis, Ekuban said he wouldn't mind for that to continue on this year as well.

"Yeah, I told Greg, hopefully I can get NFL Comeback Player of the Year this year, the way our careers have been going," Ekuban said, referring to the award Ellis won after last season. "I look up to Greg, even though he's just one year older than me. But since our days in Carolina and then the Cowboys, he's been like a big brother to me. If I can

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