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Mike McCarthy, Stephen Jones Caught in Curious Ezekiel Elliott Conversation

Ezekiel Elliott was one of the most fascinating, but lesser-known storylines that Tuesday’s Hard Knocks debut featured.

HBO cameras rolled as Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy and executive vice president Stephen Jones were discussing the star running back’s conditioning at the start of training camp — a hot-button issue at Oxnard.

“I don’t even think we should run him this whole camp,” McCarthy told Jones, via The Athletic. He’s up there career-wise in carries. He is in better health this year than last.

Elliott arrived in Oxnard weighing in at a slim 216 pounds. This is a drop of about 10 lbs. Since his infamous 2020 campaign, Elliott weighed in at a slim 216 lbs and had a career-low 979 yards rushing yards. He also tied for the personal-worst six touchdowns.

These are the results.

It is evident that there is an impetus.

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“Cleaned up the diet a little bit, little bit different training — definitely made an emphasis to get lighter coming into the season,” Elliott told Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews amid last week’s Hall of Fame Game.

The labor paid off; Elliott appears slimmer, and seems to be moving faster in camp. He has a spring in his step. This could have been intentional. Maybe he was told by the $90 million that he had to lose a few pounds. Maybe the weight loss is actually a conscious effort by him to shed last season’s skin.

It’s not surprising that his handlers have been reluctant to “run him”, however. McCarthy spoke to the NFL world before Dallas made his silver screen debut.

“We’ve got Tony Pollard, and Rico [Dowdle] has looked good,” he said last month, via SB Nation. “We have some younger men who can play and produce so Zeke doesn’t need to run the ball 25-30 games per game. You want Zeke to be at his best to run the ball 25-30 more times if necessary when you reach January, December football.

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In their latest mailbag, David Helman and Rob Phillips of the Cowboys’ official website were posed an intriguing question: Is there a correlation between Elliott’s typically limited preseason usage and his “slow starts” at the beginning of the regular season?

Phillips responded, “Last season was clearly a difficult season by Zeke’s standards, but i wouldn’t say that slow starts have been his entire career,” he wrote. Phillips replied, “In 2017, he was dealing the league suspension and last season the pandemic played a role in everyone’s preparation. McCarthy stated that McCarthy came into camp in great shape. It’s also important to monitor running backs’ preseason training. Similar things were done by the Cowboys with Emmitt Smith in the past, and the Cowboys have done the same with Zeke since his rookie year.

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Helman added: “It’s theoretically feasible, though I would point out Zeke did play as a rookie in the preseason and still struggled to get out of the gate. It’s about risk versus rewards for me. Although it’s not ideal that Zeke takes a few weeks to get things moving, it’s still better than losing him for a long time in a meaningless game. While I don’t think you are wrong, I don’t consider it a problem large enough to risk too much.

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