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With vengeance on the mind, Ezekiel Elliott has plenty of motivation

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Established talent plus simmering anger may make for a huge season for Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

It was a throwaway line. When asked a question about Ezekiel Elliott in my first ever TV interview about the Dallas Cowboys (if you think that sounds like I am bragging, I applaud your perception), I threw out the words “Ezekiel Elliott Vengeance Tour.” Strictly spur of the moment - but nonetheless - that may just happen.

We all know the story of the bitter fight between Elliott and the NFL over his suspension. While there is still some question over what really happened in the original incident, Elliott has steadfastly maintained that he did not do anything to deserve the punishment he received. He fought until literal exhaustion to clear his name and stay on the field. The cost was huge for him and the Cowboys, both in the psychic drain and the six lost games. Had he remained on the field for those games, the team’s fortunes might have changed. And all indications are that Zeke, who averaged 98.3 yards on the ground per game in his ten appearances in 2017, would have retained the NFL rushing crown he held in his rookie year. The damage for him included losing money during the suspension, suffering mental exhaustion, and his eventual legacy also took a blow. The chain of events that sat him late in the season may well have kept him from a multi-year string of rushing titles to start his career. We know what Elliott believes about the suspension; he maintained his innocence at all times. It would just be human for him to have some real anger left over, even if he is trying to move beyond it.

Over at 247 Sports, Patrik Walker did a lengthy dive into what the team and Elliott need to do to reestablish him as the best back in the NFL. It’s worth a read. But one thing Walker did not really touch on is the attitude Zeke will bring to the field after what he feels was unjust treatment.

As you may have surmised, I think that attitude is going to be pure nastiness on-the-field.

Elliott will be looking to change the narrative about him as a person, and as a player. His “quiet” offseason is a move in the direction of the former. As for the latter, Walker notes, he is all in on that.

“A lot is asked from the running back for the Dallas Cowboys,” Elliott said, via Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News. “A lot has been asked from me over the last two seasons. I’ve had some great strides this offseason, getting ready to carry that workload this season.”

In football, success comes from a combination of talent, drive, hard work, and determination. The talent is obvious. Elliott stated he is putting in the work, and his improved physical condition during OTAs indicate the work is being done. With the memory of his travails of 2017, the drive and determination are going to be fierce.

And this year, the blocking ahead of him should be better than it was a season ago. Tyron Smith is healthy (and hopefully will remain so), Connor Williams has been added to fix the left guard position, La’el Collins was playing much better in the second half of the season after moving out to tackle and should be better this year. Travis Frederick and Zack Martin continue to be among the elite players at their positions, and tackle depth was also shored up with the addition of Cameron Fleming. The running game looks poised to have a resurgence - if you really need much of one when your lead back averaged almost 100 yards per game despite everything last year.

Now the only question is whether the passing game can provide the balance needed to keep teams from stacking the box against Ellliott. That is a huge question, indeed. But Dak Prescott has been putting in his own work, honing his mechanics, and has also been dedicating time to building some chemistry with his receivers.

We still have to see if that all pays off, but with Sanjay Lal now tasked with fitting the wide receivers’ routes and assignments to better complement Prescott’s game, there is reason for optimism.

And if things pan out well, then Elliott is looking at another big year. We know that if you give him a hole, he is going to get yards in chunks. He may also be a part of the solution for the passing game if Scott Linehan incorporates him more there (which was one of Walker’s main points in his article).

“Feed Zeke” has become a bit of a battle cry for Cowboys fans, and this year, he is going to be hungrier than ever. He can take out his frustrations on the rest of the league. Expect his wrath to be delivered in full measure at every opportunity. Elliott has a rare combination of power, size, speed, and vision that was on full display in his rookie year. Now he has even more motivation than he did then, when he answered the critics who questioned the Cowboys taking him fourth overall in the draft.

Add that talent to the increased incentive to show what he is capable of, and the results could be spectacular. If they are, this could be a very good year for the Cowboys.

The Vengeance Tour is about to start. Get your popcorn ready.