FRISCO, Texas – Five days from the start of his third NFL season, Ezekiel Elliott's goal is clear.
"I want to prove I'm the best back in the game," he said after the Cowboys' first practice of the week in preparation for Sunday's opener at Carolina.
Elliott is certainly at the top of the conversation. He led the league in rushing as a rookie (1,631 yards) and fell only 17 yards short of 1,000 last year despite missing six games due to suspension.
That's where Elliott's extra motivation lies.
The third-year back spent the majority of last season contesting the NFL's ruling that he violated the league's personal conduct policy regarding allegations of domestic violence by a former girlfriend. Elliott adamantly denied those accusations, and he was never arrested or charged.
He played the first eight games as the NFL Players Association fought the ruling on his behalf. After essentially exhausting his options through the court system, he ultimately began serving the full suspension in November.
The Cowboys went 3-3 without Elliott, finishing one game out of the playoff race.
That still sticks with him.
"I'm definitely going into this year with a chip on my shoulder," he said. "I think I have a lot to prove. I would say with my preparation this offseason, I was more focused and just ready to go out there and prove what I can do on the field.
"Just not having a full year last year and just not performing the way I believe I could have."
His teammates have seen the "chip" grow.
Elliott has always been regarded as a hard worker, but All-Pro guard Zack Martin noticed a new level of intensity in his training this offseason.
"Zeke's been on it since we started camp," Martin said. "I'm sure you guys have seen it, just the way he's running, the way he's approaching every day. Just something feels different. I think he's ready for a big year."
Elliott welcomes a larger role on offense if needed. The Cowboys made significant changes at receiver and tight end in the offseason, releasing Dez Bryant and watching Jason Witten retire to pursue broadcasting.
The Cowboys know teams will try to take away the running game and test the revamped passing game led by quarterback Dak Prescott.
But Elliott says stacking the line of scrimmage isn't exactly a new strategy.
"We've faced eight-, nine-, 10-man fronts every week since I got here," he said. "I don't know how many more guys they can throw in the box. Just go back and watch the film, go back and watch the games. They play single high, they bring an extra safety in the box, and if they don't bring an extra safety in the box you punish them.
"Yeah, there's going to be more focus, I believe, on me. But I just don't understand how you could say, 'We're going to throw more guys in the box.' There's only 11 guys on the field and they're already putting as many as they can in there. It'll be our 11 versus theirs."
Elliott can't wait to get started.