Morning Cup of Joe: Focus on Zeke Elliott reverts to the gridiron

On the morning of each Cowboys game, you'll get a chance to take a sip of Joe's gridiron insights with our 'Morning Cup of Joe.' He'll offer five story lines to follow when the Cowboys take the field and his thoughts on what to expect.

1. Zeke Elliott - here today, not gone tomorrow
The opener against the Giants affords Cowboys running back Zeke Elliott a chance to shift the focus back to the field. Look for him to take full advantage.

Elliott has been in the headlines for weeks in the wake of his 6-game suspension and subsequent legal battle following it. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction Friday, means Elliott will be able to play the entire season, so Elliott will be more than energized.

Elliott had his lowest output of the season, running for just 51 yards against the Giants in last year's opener when he was coming off a hamstring. He fared better in his second game against New York, topping the century mark. But he'll be looking to greatly improve his 3.6 yards/carry average against the Cowboys' NFC East rival last year, and you better believe it's going to happen.

2. Dak Prescott- busting the myth of the sophomore slump

Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott gets to unveil what his role will look like in year two at the reigns of Scott Linehan's offense.

In his stellar rookie campaign, Prescott set six Cowboys team passing records and nine rookie NFL records, including the best rookie passer rating the league has ever seen at 104.9.

If you're worried about a sophomore slump, don't be. We ran the numbers on 10 of the best rookie quarterback in NFL history. Eight of the 10 showed improvement in their quarterback rating from year one to year two. The group's overall rating also increased on average. The so-called sophomore slump is a myth; don't buy it.

And specifically in terms of Prescott, there is nothing from what we've seen in the training camp or preseason games that would hint at any type of regression. He

The Giants had the #2 scoring defense in the league last season, putting pressure on Prescott.  His 67.8% completion rate was one of the NFL rookie records he set last season but against the Giants, he completed just 51.2% of his passes. Dak also threw two of his four interceptions on the season against New York.

Seeing what he can do with an even better grasp on the Cowboys offensive system is intriguing and you can look for improvement based on the hard woke Prescott's put in. That's among one of the most confident statements I can make about this team.

3. Jaylon Smith - define 'greatness'
When reporters asked the Cowboys second-year linebacker what his expectations were for his NFL regular season debut, he had a one-word answer, "greatness."

One could argue his ability to play in the NFL following a devastating knee injury that included nerve damage is greatness in and of itself. But you get the sense Smith is committed to doing much more than that, as he fights to regain the form that would have made him a top-five draft choice.

I suspect the initial change in game speed from the preseason to regular season may make the transition a tad bit more difficult, but Smith will catch on quickly.

Cowboys nation should tap the breaks on greatness right off the bat, though. Smith was a physical freak at Notre Dame and expecting him to return to that type of form quickly would be unfair.

I will say this, his positivity and resolve are uncommon. So, I believe he will eventually be a great player, but it will take time.

4. Taco Charlton - will the top pick be 'good enough?'
When you're the first round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, the requisite grand expectations follow, so Taco Charlton's regular season debut puts him squarely in the spotlight.

Charlton took his lumps in training camp against the Cowboys stout offensive line. And defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said Charlton "wasn't good enough," in his preseason debut. But he did bounce back with a couple of sacks in the preseason and even feigned making tacos for his fellow defensive linemen after one of them.

The Cowboys defensive line will be without David Irving and DaMontre Moore, both serving suspensions, so Charlton needs to show up. And he should have chances, especially when he lines up against the Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers. Now let's see if the rook is good enough to beat him for his first career sack.

5. Jason Witten - the old man reaches another milestone
The title of this section is penned with nothing but respect, by the way. Jason Witten is the gold standard for the silver and blue. The 15-year veteran on the verge of grabbing one of the franchise's most important records.

He needs 17 yards to surpass Michael Irvin as the Cowboys all-time leader in receiving yards.  It shouldn't take long according to what I saw in training camp. Witten and Prescott have a better feel for each other, so the catches and yards should follow.

It's time for real football, so saving the best for last in this report was intentional. Lacerated spleen, broken jaw, no helmet - no problem. Jason Witten gives his all and I'm looking forward to once again seeing him chase after that elusive Lombardi Trophy, and rewrite the record books along the way.

There's you 'Cup of Joe,' now let's go!

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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