*LOS ANGELES *– As might be expected, not many people were interested in the Cowboys’ preseason loss to the Rams on Saturday night.
After all, preseason games don’t actually matter in the standings. What will matter to the Cowboys for the foreseeable future is the six-game suspension of Ezekiel Elliott – which Cowboys coaches and players reacted to for the first time after hearing the news on Friday.
“We’ve talked to our team about the situation and the importance of focusing on what we can control,” said Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. “We can’t control what the NFL does, and it’s not my place to comment on whether I think it’s justified or not.”
That was more or less the gist of the postgame activities. Garrett’s Cowboys have always adhered to the mantra of “next man up,” and that attitude has not changed just because of the high profile nature of Elliott’s situation.
All three of Elliott’s primary replacements – Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris and Rod Smith – got work in the 13-10 loss to the Rams. Garrett said Elliott will continue to practice with the team throughout the preseason. But when the time comes, the Cowboys will be ready to move forward with who they have available.
“We suspected that something like this might happen. We prepared our team accordingly by building it the right way, and we’re going to focus on what we can control within our football team,” Garrett said. “As players and coaches, we’re going to coach as well as we can, we’re going to play as well as we can with the guys that we have available to us.”
Obviously, other questions will be coming. Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones did not speak on Saturday, and he has not spoken publicly since the NFL’s decision on Elliott was announced.
There will be questions about Elliott’s impending appeal, as well as the possibility of legal action on the Cowboys’ behalf. Garrett and other members of the team declined to speculate on those matters for the time being. But there was a sense of support for the young running back – as well as an acknowledgement of the gravity of the situation.
“At the end of the day we certainly support Zeke,” said Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones in a pregame interview. “At the same time we understand the very, very, very serious nature of domestic violence, certainly that people should be held accountable if that takes place."
Few people in the building are perhaps better suited to speak on the issue than Jason Witten, who spoke at length with reporters despite not playing in the game. Witten said he didn’t know enough about Elliott’s situation to offer much input, though he did offer a condemnation of domestic violence.
“Most of you guys know that that’s a situation that has affected my family as a younger kid, and so I’ve put a lot of work and teaching and have a platform to step out and speak on stopping domestic violence,” he said.
Having said that, Witten acknowledged the impact that Elliott has made on him as a teammate. And while he said he could not come off the standard he holds himself to, he was hopeful the experience would help Elliott’s maturation process going forward.
“This last year I’ve enjoyed having that relationship with him,” Witten said. “Not only is he a tremendous football player, but the opportunity to be able to have a relationship with him and be a veteran personality with him – somebody that’s been through this game for a few years now -- to have an opportunity to go through that together. That’s what teammates do. Certainly he’ll work through it and be better and grow from it.”