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Cowboys' Training Camp Kicks Off With Added Scrutiny On Zeke, Team Character

OXNARD, Calif. – It's telling and entirely unsurprising that, even for a team facing disciplinary issues across its roster, the Cowboys spent the majority of Sunday morning answering questions about Ezekiel Elliott.

The focal points of the Cowboys' front office – team owner/general manager Jerry Jones, executive vice president Stephen Jones and head coach Jason Garrett – officially opened their 2017 training camp with an introductory press conference on Sunday. And for every issue that might be facing the Cowboys heading into this new season, none loomed larger than Elliott and concerns about his off-field behavior.

That's hardly shocking, given that it's been just a week since speculation began that the Pro Bowl running back had been involved in an altercation in a Dallas night club. Elliott was never named in a police report, and the Dallas Police Department suspended its investigation of the incident last week.

But that speculation, combined with the NFL's year-long investigation into Elliott for allegations of domestic violence, have prompted plenty of conversation about his conduct.

"We believe very strongly in Zeke as a person and as a football player. We did our due diligence on him," Garrett said on Sunday. "Having said that, he's not perfect. He makes mistakes, we all make mistakes. It's incumbent on all of us, everybody in our organization – coaches, players, everybody that's connected with Zeke – to help him understand the importance of making good decisions if we're going to help him grow that way."

Discussing Elliott's off-field transgressions leads to a fairly strange line of questioning – after all, there isn't much in the way of concrete evidence of wrong-doing. Elliott was never implicated in last week's incident, and he was not questioned by police during a February incident in which his friend was arrested for carrying a firearm in a Columbus, Ohio, night club.

Presently, the only known issue facing the star running back is the NFL's investigation into last year's domestic violence allegations – in which the Columbus City Attorney's Office declined to press criminal charges due to conflicting statements.

Jerry Jones has long expressed his confidence that there was no merit to that situation, and he reiterated that Sunday when pressed about the league's investigation.

"There is absolutely nothing, not one thing, that I've seen that has anything to do with domestic violence," he said. "I don't want to answer any more. But I've seen nothing."

With all of that said, it seems fair to assume that Cowboys officials are concerned by Elliott's behavior. Garrett confirmed that he has had a conversation with him in the past week, and he emphasized the importance of character to every player on the roster.
"Zeke understands what the standards are for our football team. I think he understands what he needs to do to reach those standards on and off the football field. We'll continue to work with him, just like we will with all our players."

Of course, Elliott is just the headliner on what has been an unideal summer for the Cowboys. Heading into training camp, several other players are facing NFL and potentially legal action. Nolan Carroll was arrested in May for a charge of driving while intoxicated, and Damien Wilson was arrested on July 4 for two counts of aggravated assault. David Irving was also suspended earlier this year for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances.

Throw in rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis' impending trial for domestic violence allegations, which is set to start Monday, and it's no surprise that the Cowboys faced plenty of questions about the character of their roster.

Even in the face of that much scrutiny, Garrett defended the makeup of his roster, going down a list of names such as Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, Byron Jones, Dak Prescott, Tyrone Crawford an others as evidence of his point.

"Having said that, we have had some issues and some incidents here over the offseason, and we'll address those issues," he said. "There's a standard that we have here with the Dallas Cowboys – behavior on and off the field and how we're going to handle those things. We're going to hold those players accountable to what those standards are, regardless of what the circumstances were that were involved."

Despite all of this, there will still be questions. After all, nothing has been resolved regarding most of these situations – including Elliott's.

But at the outset of training camp, the Cowboys were adamant that their summer transgressions wouldn't set the tone for their 2017 season.

"We're going to get closer and closer and closer to what the standard is each and every day," Garrett said. "It's part of being a human being. You make mistakes. The biggest thing that we have to provide for them is structure and an environment where they understand there is accountability in place. Accountability does not mean infallibility. Each and every day we're going to get better."


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