IRVING, Texas – Ezekiel Elliott won a national championship at Ohio State. In three years he became the school's second all-time leading rusher. In April he became the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft.
Yet, on the first day of OTA's (organized team activities) last week at Valley Ranch, the tempo admittedly surprised him.
"Just a lot faster pace," he said. "The game moves so much faster."
Oh yeah – Ezekiel Elliott is also just 20 years old, with an offseason to adjust to the pro landscape.
He already started to settle in by Day Two, displaying the vision and smooth swift running style that made him the Cowboys' earliest draft selection in 25 years.
There's plenty more work for the rookie to do. Before the Cowboys put on pads at training camp in Oxnard, Calif., the upcoming OTA's and minicamp will build the foundation for the offense.
Elliott figures to have a prominent role right away, but he's also entering a veteran running back room that includes free-agent signing Alfred Morris and returning starter Darren McFadden. If he's going to be a featured back as a rookie, "Zeke has to earn it," running backs coach Gary Brown said.
In other words, expect a healthy competition.
"I think that's the best thing for our team and for those guys going forward," Brown said.
That's just fine with Elliott, who says competition "keeps you on your toes and make sure you're getting that work done."
He's already looking to the 28-year-old McFadden as an example for how to prepare himself for the job day in, day out.
"Just the way he works out there, how good of shape he is coming into these OTA's just showed me what I need to do and how I need to be ready going into OTA's," he said.
Though not in pads, the OTA workouts are the closest thing to a regular practice for the rookies since their final college season. The last few months have been a job interview of sorts leading into the draft.
So, it's no surprise there's an adjustment period even for a top-five pick like Elliott.
"There's a lot of information that they get every day," head coach Jason Garrett said. "They're going to get in a meeting, they're going to go through a walkthrough and they're going to be on a practice field and expectations are they're supposed to be able to execute it, so I think that process is quick for them. Over time, they'll have seen the stuff over and over and over again or concepts like it and they'll be able to pick it up more quickly than they were right at the start.[embeddedad0]
"I think the other thing is just simply the tempo. We do things quickly. We do things in a very competitive fashion. A lot of guys have come from programs in college where they do things the same way, but it's all ramped up. These guys are pro football players; they've been doing it this way for a long time. So the young guys have to acclimate themselves not only mentally but physically to how we practice."
Knowing he must earn a big role at running back, Elliott is ready to work.
"This is a next level up from Ohio State," he said. "Obviously the Dallas Football Cowboys. Just honored to be here playing for America's Team."
See all the best photos from week one of OTAs at Valley Ranch by Cowboys photographers James D. Smith and Jeremiah Jhass.