NFL’s eyes on Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott in 2016

Published 12:15 pm Saturday, August 6, 2016

Ezekiel Elliott leaves the field to screams of “Zeeeeeke!” from autograph-seeking fans who haven’t even seen him carry the ball in a game yet for the Dallas Cowboys.

The fourth overall pick in this year’s draft opened his first training camp taking first-team snaps before a mild hamstring strain put him on the sidelines with Darren McFadden, who led the team in rushing last season but still could be replaced as the starter even after he returns from a broken right elbow.

If he’s healthy and not sidelined over a domestic violence allegation in Ohio, Elliott is likely to begin his career in a way that Cowboys Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Tony Dorsett didn’t: starting the opener as a rookie running back.

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Even if he doesn’t start in his debut, the former Ohio State star is the future of the running game for a once-proud franchise now 20 years removed from its last Super Bowl. He’s high on a list of non-quarterbacks that were taken in the first two rounds and could play significant roles right away.

“I’m just doing what they’re asking me to do,” said Elliott, taken two spots after quarterbacks Jared Goff (Rams) and Carson Wentz (Eagles) went 1-2 in the draft. “At running back we’re down a couple bodies right now, but we got to come together and get in shape and lean on each other right now.”

Elliott waited a day to face the expected swarm of reporters while knowing the conversation would quickly turn to the case in Columbus, Ohio, where his girlfriend accused him of assaulting her about a week before camp opened. The 21-year-old Elliott has denied the claims.

Looking a bit winded at times during his first two days in camp, Elliott also struggled with Ohio State’s school song and was forced into a second night of singing in front of his teammates — a popular rookie initiation in NFL camps.

“They can be all-conference in the biggest conferences there are, they can be All-American, they can win Heisman trophies. And then they step into this environment, it’s a step up,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We certainly like the transition that Zeke has made up to this point.”