Zeke Wants a Bounceback Year in 2021

Jul 25, 2021; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) during training camp at the Marriott Residence Inn. Mandatory Credit: Jason Parkhurst-USA TODAY Sports

Ezekiel Elliott is looking forward to a fresh start in the 2021 season. 2020 saw some decent production, but also a career-high in fumbles.

He is ready to grind for a better year this time around. Sure, the COVID pandemic may have played a factor in the stats, and injuries hit Dallas hard, especially at the quarterback position, but that didn’t fluster the former Ohio State Buckeye.

“But the sixth-year running back doesn’t look back at 2020 and recognize those excuses. He looks back at a career-low year —– 979 rushing yards, six touchdowns, his first career game missed due to injury —– and sees a performance that doesn’t resemble the three-time Pro Bowl player Elliott believes he is still capable of being.”

And Elliott was not exactly pleased with his performance during the COVID-ravaged 2020 campaign. As he looks forward to 2021, he’s ready to move on.

“Last year left a bad taste in my mouth,” he said following the Cowboys’ first training camp practice in Oxnard, California on Thursday. “The hardest part about last year is you feel like you let your teammates down. That hurts.”

Thursday also was a bit of happiness for the former Buckeye, as he celebrated his 26th birthday. With a healthy Dak Prescott returning from an ankle fracture and dislocation, the Cowboys will have higher expectations coming for the 2021 season.

And every time that Elliott gets a chance to carry the ball, he puts a lot of pressure on himself.

“When you carry the ball, you kind of carry the whole hope of the whole team,” he said. “If you cough it up and give it to the other team, you’re letting everyone down, so I mean, that’s the No. 1 thing that’s my focus this year is protecting the ball.”

While 2020 was a statistical career-low for Elliott, the record was down from previous years, as the ‘Boys only managed a 6-10 finish. So the former Buckeye has been putting in work this offseason.

Elliott has given major props to trainer Josh Hicks for his new look and newfound quickness as well as what he has worked on.

“He’s a lot smaller than me, he has a lot shorter legs than me and a lot more shifty,” the running back said. “So I kind of look at my game and look at what I need to improve on and that’s kind of going to the strengths of his game. So when I went to work with him, it was just kind of getting better at my weaknesses.”

One way to analyze performance is to watch footage from last season’s games. And one thing that immediately jumped off the page was the handling before Elliott’s fumbles.

“Elliott also delved into tape of his 2020 fumbles. He fumbled six times, losing four, in an uncharacteristic season further complicated by wrist and calf injuries. Sure, Elliott figures, NFL defenders have improved their ball-punching skills. But it’s his responsibility to improve his protection. No more leaving his left hand exposed when he runs right. No more loose ball carriage as he jukes or spins.”

For Ezekiel Elliott, 2020 was a shaky season for production and injuries and fumbles. Now with a fresh look and new beginning in 2021, if he could return to his early career form and be a solid workhorse on the ground, the Cowboys could return to better times in the NFC East.