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Dez Bryant says Ezekiel Elliott is ‘licking his chops’ for return this week

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Ezekiel Elliott is known for, among other things, his spoon-to-mouth, “feed me” celebration gesture. Thus it may have been unintentionally appropriate for Dez Bryant to have claimed that his Cowboys teammate was “licking his chops” for his NFL return this week.

That said, to judge from photos released recently by Elliott’s agent, the Dallas running back wasn’t spending his six-week suspension sitting on a couch shoveling down pints of ice cream. Instead, Elliott reportedly trained with great intensity, and he is set to come back to the Cowboys in better condition than in the first eight weeks of the season, when he performed below the expectations set by his stellar rookie season and sparked accusations of being out of shape.

“I texted Zeke last week to talk to him, he’s in great spirits,” Bryant said (via the Dallas Morning News). “The passion he brings each and every day is crazy. He gets us juiced. And to have him back, I know he’s licking his chops right now. I seen a couple [pictures]. He ready.”

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During the telecast of “Sunday Night Football,” NBC’s Michele Tafoya said that she had talked to Elliott’s agent, Rocky Arceneaux, who provided photos of his now-shredded client. Tafoya said that Arceneaux told her Elliott “added muscle and definitely looks leaner” as a result of his efforts while staying at a resort in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

NFL Network’s Jane Slater noted Monday that “a lot of people were understandably skeptical about news that he was going to Cabo to train,” after a federal appeals court denied Elliott’s request in November to keep his suspension on hold. The NFL had originally handed the running back that punishment in August, after alleging that he “engaged in physical violence” against an ex-girlfriend in 2016.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported at the time that he was told Elliott was “leaving the country to an undisclosed location to completely reset, clear his head, train and come back in late December for the Cowboys in the best shape he has been in.” That country turns out to have been Mexico, and Rapoport said Sunday that Elliott not only was in “six weeks of intensive training” there, but that the back had been “meeting with some mentors to help him get some other parts of his life better.”

Slater said Elliott was at Diamante, a resort located about a half-hour from Cabo, where the player was in “remote isolation.” She said she had seen some footage of a film that was being made of Eilliott’s six weeks away from the NFL, including scenes of him at a “makeshift minicamp” for football drills set up at a Diamante golf course and of him “really getting cut in the gym” with weightlifting that a wrist injury had previously limited.

(Note: Previous versions of this post cited Slater’s claim that Arceneaux owned Diamante, which was inaccurate, as the agent has a residence at the resort, which is owned by Legacy Properties.)

Slater added that Elliott spend some of his Sundays watching the Cowboys, just like other Dallas fans, and either “cheering” for the team or “expressing frustration” about plays that might have worked better if he were allowed on the field. She identified some of the mentors to whom Rapoport had referred, including Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson, former pitcher Roger Clemens and comeback-minded golfer Tiger Woods.

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Dickerson told Fox Sports’s Colin Cowherd last week that he had just spent a night at Diamante, where he and Elliott worked out and talked about football and other matters. Dickerson said that he told Elliott to appreciate how much Cowboys owner Jerry Jones “cares” about his players, and that the back predicted that he would run for over 200 yards in his return, to which Dickerson expressed skepticism, considering that Dallas is set to play Seattle on Christmas Eve.

Dickerson said they made a friendly wager on Elliott’s performance in that game. The second-year player’s chances of rushing for over 200 yards look better now, given how the Rams’ Todd Gurley trampled the Seahawks on Sunday for 152 yards on just 21 carries and in less than three quarters.

The Cowboys, of course, will take any amount of yardage from Elliott, just as long as it helps the 8-6 team keep its playoff hopes alive. Dallas needs to win its final two games and get help in the form of some losses by other NFC postseason hopefuls, such as the Lions and Falcons.

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott figures to be as at least as excited as Bryant for Elliott’s return, as he struggled mightily to move the offense in the first few games of the back’s suspension. With Elliott in the lineup during the first eight games of the season, Prescott had 16 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 97.9 rating, but in the past six games he has had five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 76.7 rating.

“He’s got some abilities that not many people have,” Prescott said (via the AP) of Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing last season. “We’re going to believe in him when he comes back, giving him the ball and him making people miss and getting those dirty eight-yard runs and eventually it turns into 15 yards, and you know the rest of it. Defenses can’t play us the same.”

“We’re just glad to have him back,” Jones said of Elliott. “This has been a rough year for Zeke, and he’ll be the first to say that he knows his fans have had it up and down with him here. And now they’re back together again, and maybe we’ll get a chance to really do something special. Maybe we can get in the playoffs.”

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