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Cowboys' Zack Martin: Elliott 'ready for a big year'

The outside world hasn't seen much of Ezekiel Elliott this summer as the Dallas Cowboys running back didn't see a snap during the preseason. His teammates, however, report that we should expect a new and improved Zeke in 2018.

"Just the way he's running, the way he's approaching every day," offensive lineman Zack Martin said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. "Something just feels different. I think he's ready for a big year."

It's not the first we've heard about Elliott's newfound focus. With the distraction of last season's looming suspension behind him, the former Pro Bowl running back is leaner this year than he entered each of his first two seasons.

"He's always been a hard worker, but it's just something different about this year," Martin said. "He's coming each day, running hard. Although he hasn't played in the preseason, I don't think there's any question that he's ready for this week."

With the changes on offense, the Cowboys will lean heavily on Zeke to power them back to the playoffs.

Elliott was on pace to lead the NFL in rushing for the second straight season before the league-imposed suspension wiped out the final six games of his campaign. The 23-year-old still finished 10th in rushing yards in 2017. In 10 games, Zeke led the league with 24.2 carries per game and 98.3 yards per game. Entering his third season, Elliott needs to match those workhorse numbers again for the Cowboys.

The biggest question facing Elliott is not his weight or a lingering suspension, but rather how the offensive line in front of him will look to open the season. Tyron Smith continues to deal with injury issues, but is expected to be ready for the season. All-Pro center Travis Frederick avoided IR, but it's unknown how long he'll be out as he deals with Guillain-Barré syndrome. Martin has dealt with a knee issue, but says he feels ready for the start of the season.

"I feel great," he said. "I feel ready to go. After the first few days, I felt good and have been back out there, no problems."

The Cowboys open the season against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET.

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