They developed their skills together in the same youth football organization in the St. Louis area, though with a four-year age difference, Giants linebacker Markus Golden never played against the younger Ezekiel Elliott.
He’ll likely get that chance on Sunday after the Cowboys star ended his holdout by agreeing to a six-year, $90 million extension, with $50 million guaranteed. Elliott, 24, is now the NFL’s top-paid running back.
“You’ve got to be happy for him,” Golden told Newsday on Wednesday before the Giants’ first full practice of the regular season. “He came in, put in a lot of work. He’s worked hard since he was in Little League football in St. Louis. Knowing him when we were kids, both from St. Louis, I’m happy for him and I’m excited to suit up against him this week.”
Elliott, who missed all of training camp and did not play in the preseason, is not guaranteed to play against the Giants. He participated in the full Cowboys practice on Wednesday but with limited reps, and coach Jason Garrett said on a conference call Elliott would be monitored as the week progresses before a final decision is made.
Garrett added it was “too early to talk about that,” when asked whether Elliott could be used in a limited capacity on Sunday.
“You just see how he does, how he handles the workload,” Garrett said. “He hasn’t practiced all throughout training camp and even though he hasn’t played in the preseason throughout his career, he has practiced. He’s been away from that.”
Elliott’s eventual return obviously improves the Cowboys. But Golden said it doesn’t impact the way the Giants are preparing for Week 1. And Giants coach Pat Shurmur said it was “not a surprise” that Elliott might be available on Sunday.
“It’s football, no matter who’s out there,” Golden said. “Him being a good player, I know they’re happy to get him back. But the team has a good offensive line, a real good quarterback. Good receivers. I’ve played him a couple of times. He’s a real good player. I wouldn’t say it’s the hardest thing or anything like that but when you get out there and play against him, you know he’s a good player.”
Make that a great player.
Elliott totaled 2,001 scrimmage yards in 15 games last season — including a league-high 1,434 rushing yards —and is the fourth player in NFL history with at least 1,900 scrimmage yards in two of his first three seasons. He ran for 1,631 yards in 2016.
“We all know he’s one of the top backs in the league,” linebacker Tae Davis said. “They got the deal done. Congrats to him. You still have a lot of weapons on offense you have to worry about. So, for us, we’ve got to be technique-sound and execute.”
The Cowboys also feature quarterback Dak Prescott, who has thrown 10 career touchdowns against the Giants, his most against any team, wide receiver Amari Cooper and unretired tight end Jason Witten, who has caught 154 passes in 30 career games against the Giants, among their offensive weapons.
Shurmur said it was not a matter of preparing one defensive scheme against a lineup that included Elliott and another in case Elliott did not play.
“I think you play team defense,” Shurmur said. “You’re certainly aware where the outstanding players are on their team. But they sort of simplify it for you because they have outstanding players everywhere. So, you play defense. You have to defend everything the Cowboys present. It’s going to be a big challenge.”