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October 10, 2018
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Ezekiel Elliott doesn't pretend that vocal leadership comes naturally for him.

The Dallas Cowboys running back is going to try anyway now that fellow stars Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are gone Darren Helm Jersey , and now that his focus is solely on football following a tumultuous second year in the NFL.

Elliott is no longer under investigation by the league over domestic violence allegations that led to a two-month court fight of a six-game suspension he ultimately had to serve starting halfway through last season.

The ban cost him a chance to defend the NFL rushing title he won as a rookie, and helped keep the Cowboys out of the playoffs a year after he and quarterback Dak Prescott, the NFL offensive rookie of the year in 2016, led Dallas to the best record in the NFC.

A quiet offseason reached another benchmark Thursday with the final practice of minicamp. In another six weeks, training camp will be underway in California.

"I think the biggest thing I accomplished is just developing more leadership skills," Elliott said. "That's really what I focused on coming into this year, just becoming a better vocal leader with the loss of Dez and Witt."

Running backs coach Gary Brown has been pushing the idea with Elliott, who is going into his third season after the Cowboys drafted the former Ohio State star fourth overall in 2016.

The loss of leadership is actually about more than Witten, the tight end who retired after 15 seasons, or the outspoken Bryant, who was released in a cost-cutting move. Veterans Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris aren't in the running backs room anymore.

Elliott isn't the oldest running back at the position for the Cowboys. But he's the most experienced and most accomplished. Elliott still led the NFL in rushing yards per game last year.

"It's a little bit tougher for me to be a vocal leader," he said. "I like to go out there and work. I think it takes a little bit more extra effort to kind of encourage guys to come with you so it's definitely something I have to work on."

With the domestic allegations looming during the offseason last year Authentic Baker Mayfield Jersey , Elliott had a hard time keeping himself out of the headlines.

There was video of him pulling down a woman's shirt during a St. Patrick's Day parade. Although he wasn't disciplined for that by the NFL, the incident was mentioned in the letter detailing his punishment. Elliott also had his second minor car accident in his two years with the Cowboys.

The 22-year-old hasn't given anyone reason to question his judgment so far this offseason.

"I think it changed him a lot," Brown said of events over the past year. "I think that he's realized that this is a very special opportunity that he has, especially to be one of the better backs, one of the best backs to ever play. He has that opportunity, and I think he understands that now."

Elliott shattered the Dallas rookie rushing record with 1,631 yards two years ago. Last season, he was at his best in helping the Cowboys to a three-game winning streak that boosted their playoff hopes. Then the suspension hit.

The departure of Bryant has left the Cowboys with uncertainty at receiver and the likelihood that they will lean heavily on Elliott, with defenses obviously scheming to stop him.

"I'm all for it," Elliott said. "A lot is asked of the running back of the Dallas Cowboys. A lot has been asked of me in pass receiving. I think I've had some great strides this offseason getting ready to carry that workload this season."

While encouraging Elliott to speak up more in his group, Brown hasn't felt the need to stress what's coming with the workload. That's something he figures Elliott understands.

"I think Zeke is a very intelligent man," Brown said. "And it's going to happen early. We understand what the mindset of some defenses will be Pat McAfee Jersey , and we've just got to make sure we weather the storm."

For now, Elliott is enjoying the calm.

NOTES: RG Zack Martin signed the $84 million, six-year extension that made him the highest-paid guard in the NFL. Martin is now under contract through 2024.
If it was up to Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James, his training camp debut would have happened before Thursday.

The Chargers decided to be cautious with their first-round draft pick as he recovered from a minor hamstring strain and delayed James’ first workout in pads.

”I feel like I was ready Monday, but you know it’s an ongoing process.” James said. ”You never know with those soft tissue injuries, so I know they got my back. They only want what’s best.”

James sustained the injury one week prior to the start of training camp while working out on his own, but there was no hint the former Florida State standout was limited in any way. During a position drill, James even joined his fellow defensive backs in an impromptu dance party.

In the team period, James was smooth and explosive in limited repetitions to earn praise from head coach Anthony Lynn.

”He looks good,” Lynn said. ”He looks good in his uniform. I mean, he’s a good-looking safety, but it’s just good to see him back out there because he had such a good offseason.”

The decision to be cautious with James was understandable after cornerback Jason Verrett sustained a torn Achilles tendon during a conditioning test last week before the start of training camp. Trevor Williams Morgan Rielly Jersey , a possible replacement for Verrett, sustained an ankle injury on Tuesday, but Lynn said it was not a high-ankle sprain and that Williams could return in a week.

James acknowledged some frustration at missing the start of his first training camp, but recognized why the Chargers would not want to risk having the injury linger into the regular season. Instead, he is focused on making the most of his time going forward.

”They know what I can do,” James said. ”They drafted me in the first round for a reason. Just really come out here and become a master of my craft, learn my movements and be where I’m supposed to be on the field.”

With James on the field, the Chargers can start to figure out their safety pairings in earnest. Tre Boston started 15 games last season, but was not re-signed in free agency. James was drafted No. 17 overall to fill that vacancy and play next to incumbent Jahleel Addae.

James is learning how to play as both a free safety and a strong safety right now, but Addae said differentiating between the two positions can be overblown in coordinator Gus Bradley’s 4-3 defense.

”Coach always says it best,” Addae said. ”We don’t have no strong safety, we don’t have no free safety. We just have safeties. All of us are interchangeable.”

James credited Addae and the other Chargers defensive backs with helping him adjust quickly to the NFL.

”I sit right behind him in the meeting room and I try to pick his brain Youth Sam Hubbard Jersey , and he don’t mind helping me,” James said. ”He’s a great guy. Adrian Phillips, he helps me. Our whole DB room and our coaches that we have are great people to be around, and they only want what’s best.”

Still, James compared the learning process to feeding a baby.

”They give me a little spoonful, and then I got to wait a little bit, and they give me some more,” James said.

NOTES: The Chargers signed receiver Marcus Peterson and cornerback Channing Stribling on Thursday after placing Verrett and tight end Austin Roberts (torn ACL) on injured reserve.

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