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Jason Garrett on Ezekiel Elliott and getting ready to face the Giants

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Jason Garrett is getting Ezekiel Elliott back, but will he be ready to carry the load?

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants open the season with a divisional road game against their perennial rivals, the Dallas Cowboys. In advance of the game, Cowboys’ head coach held a conference call with the New York media, and was — of course — asked about running back Ezekiel Elliott as well as his thoughts looking ahead to facing the Giants.

Also, as a former quarterback (and a former Giant at that), he was asked his thoughts on Eli Manning as he enters his 16th season.

“Eli has been one of the great players at that position throughout his career,” Garrett said. “His resume speaks for itself. We’ve had the chance to compete against him a couple times a year for a long time, and he’s a great football player. He’s a great ambassador to the National Football League and has been so great for the Giants organization and for the NFL throughout those 16 years. I hold him to the highest regard. He’s been a really good player for a long time, and there’s no question in our mind that he still is. He’s an elite quarterback.”

The return of Ezekiel Elliott

If you asked the Giants a week ago if they were anticipating having to play Ezekiel Elliott in week one, they would have responded by saying “Of course” they are, that they would always prepare as though the opposing team would have their best players available. But after signing a mammoth 6-year, $90 million contract extension, the Giants, and Cowboys, both know that Elliott will be on the field Sunday.

Of course, Elliott might have been working out during his hold-out, but working out is not going through a training camp or NFL preseason. The Cowboys’ head coach was asked whether or not he is assuming Elliott will be in “football shape,” and his answer was surprisingly honest.

“No,” Garrett said, “just need to watch him all week long and just see how he does, how he handles the workload. He hasn’t practiced all throughout training camp, even though he hasn’t been, he’s played in the preseason throughout his career, he has practiced so he’s been away from that. So we just have to be honest with ourselves about what he is able to handle. He was out there today, went through the whole practice, had limited reps and we’ll see how he handles that and see what the workload is for tomorrow and for the rest of the week.”

That, of course, begged the question as to whether or not Elliott would be on a “pitch count” and only play a limited number of snaps.

Garrett said, “I think it’s too early to talk about all that. I just think we want to process each day as it comes and make our best decision as the week goes on.”

Even if the Cowboys decide to let Elliott ease his way into the season, fourth round rookie running back Tony Pollard showed promise in a small sample size this past preseason. He ran the ball 15 times, picking up 84 yards (5.6 per carry) and a touchdown. Perhaps more notable was Jerry Jones’ “Zeke who?” response to Pollard’s performance. If they have faith in Pollard, Dallas might not hesitate to use an active rotation in their backfield.

On facing the Giants

For the sixth time in the last seven seasons, the Giants and Cowboys will start the season by playing one another in what has become something of an annual tradition. The two teams did not play each other in opening week last year, and this will be a very different team from the one the Cowboys faced in week one of 2016 — and even in week 17 of 2018.

Of course the New York media members asked Garrett for his take on the 2019 Giants. Of course, crafty veteran that he is — amazingly, the fifth-longest tenured head coach in the NFL at nine seasons — Garrett refused to give the Giants anything like bulletin board material.

“Well,” Garrett said, “obviously, they had a really good preseason, (and) they played very well in all three phases of their team. Sometimes it’s hard to evaluate preseason because there are so many guys who aren’t with their respective teams, but they certainly did a good job moving the ball offensively and scoring points. They played well on defense, they have playmakers all over the offense, (they put) a lot of resources into that offensive line with a lot of really good veteran players coming to the Giants. (There are) A lot of first-round picks up front and playmakers really all over the place — the running back is an elite player, receivers, tight end, quarterback, the whole thing. They really are an impressive unit— and the same thing on defense. They are talented up front, they play fast, they have playmakers on the backend with guys who have made a lot of plays on the ball throughout their career. When you watch the tape, you are certainly really impressed with their team from top to bottom.”