FRISCO, Texas – Ezekiel Elliott met briefly with reporters Wednesday after his first practice back from a six-game NFL suspension. His message was clear:
With two critical games left in the regular season and a possible wild-card spot at stake, Elliott's focus is centered on Sunday's matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.
"I'm just trying to start a new page, a new chapter," he said. "I just want to thank this Cowboys organization for being behind me. I'm thankful to my family, my team, my friends for supporting me through the time, and especially the Cowboys fans who stuck by me through this time and having faith in me."
Elliott's teammates are excited to have him back, too.
His value to the offense is obvious. The 2016 NFL rushing champion still has a chance at back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons despite missing 43 percent of the season to date. His 783 yards through the first eight games ranked second in the league before his suspension took effect, and his 7 touchdown runs were tied for first.
Alfred Morris and Rod Smith formed a productive, complementary backfield rotation during Elliott's suspension. But there's no question Elliott's dynamic, hard-nosed running style sets a tone for the offense and galvanizes the rest of the roster.
"It's something that we feed off of," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "It's something the crowd feeds off of, and I think the team feeds off the way the crowd gets excited over a Zeke 8-yard run because it's physical. It's a tempo setter."
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett did not speculate on how many carries Elliott might get in his first game back. The coaching staff will monitor his conditioning throughout the week of practice, but Garrett said he expected a normal workload from Elliott in his first practice.
"He's capable of doing anything we'd ask him to do at the running back position," Garrett said. We'll work through this week and see what he's able to do in this game plan. We'll certainly get Alfred ready. We'll certainly keep Rod ready. Those guys have done a really nice job handling the situation throughout."
There's an intangible quality Elliott's teammates missed during his suspension: the energy he brings to the locker room during this long, demanding, rollercoaster season.
"It's just great," defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence said. "Makes the days go by fast from week to week, being able to move on and stop making it look like a job, but more as football again. He helps out a lot doing that. It's fun just to have a guy like that in the locker room."
And he's back, bringing additional hope to the Cowboys' postseason chances with him.