OXNARD, Calif. — The rise of the Dallas Cowboys last season came thanks in large part to the exploits of their prized rookies, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. And the team’s hopes to take things a step further this season, reaching – and perhaps winning – a Super Bowl, are pinned to the belief that Prescott and Elliott are built-to-last superstars who will provide a suitably spectacular Year 2 encore.

So what happens if the Cowboys are forced to open the season without Elliott?

It is an unsavory question for the franchise, given owner Jerry Jones’ contention that Elliott should not be suspended by the NFL under its personal conduct policy. But it is an issue with which the Cowboys potentially must come to grips.

Jones said Saturday at the team’s training camp that Elliott had met with league officials within the past month as part of the NFL’s investigative process. That means, according to Jones, that “everything is in place” for the league to make a disciplinary decision about Elliott, who has been under investigation since an incident last year involving his then-girlfriend.

Elliott did not face criminal charges but still could be disciplined by the league. ESPN reported in recent weeks that Elliott and his representatives are braced for a suspension of possibly one to two games.

The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl last season despite playing without quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the regular season while he served his Deflategate suspension. The Patriots went 3-1 in those games, success that bolstered the value of backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and reinforced the X’s-and-O’s wizardry of Coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Belichick and McDaniels found a way to get one victory with rookie Jacoby Brissett at quarterback after Garoppolo was hurt.

For the Cowboys to thrive without Elliott, a greater burden would fall on Prescott and on the team’s defense. The team’s powerful offensive line would have to play its part in keeping the running game productive without Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing last season as a rookie.

The Cowboys’ first two games of the regular season are at home against the New York Giants and at Denver. Both ranked in the top 10 last season in total defense.

Dallas added veteran running back Ronnie Hillman to the roster last week and already had Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris.

McFadden has had two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, one for the Raiders in 2010 and one for the Cowboys in 2015. Morris had three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons for Washington between 2012 and 2014.

“I think we’ve got depth at the running back position,” said Stephen Jones, the Cowboys’ executive vice president and one of Jerry Jones’ sons. “McFadden rushed for (more than 1,000) yards . . . the year before we had Zeke. Then, of course, we have Alfred Morris as well who’s a proven 1,000-yard rusher. And then you just look to what’s surrounding, the supporting cast around that running back position.

“We’ve got, we think, obviously one of the top, if not the top, offensive lines in the game. We’ve got a really solid receiving corps with Dez (Bryant) and Cole (Beasley) and Terrance (Williams), with some good depth in behind that. You look at an all-pro, Hall of Famer like Jason Witten who’s going to be in that huddle. I just feel very confident that if there is a suspension – we hope there’s not – that we’ll certainly be able to, to use a Bill Parcells term, hold the fort and be successful with or without Zeke.”

Morris said over the weekend that nothing has changed about the training camp approach of the Cowboys’ other running backs because of the uncertainty over Elliott’s playing status.

“I think it’s the same,” Morris said. “We’re veterans. We’re mature guys. Our mindset is always like we’re starters. We’re one play away from being a starter. You never know what’s going to happen in this business. You always prepare. We always approach every day as if we’re the guy. I feel regardless of what’s going on, it doesn’t affect how we approach every day.”

Morris signed with the Cowboys before last season but was an afterthought in Dallas. The former workhorse for Washington had only 69 carries for the Cowboys.

“The way it started the beginning of the year, it ended up totally different,” Morris said. “The last few games, I was inactive. The playoff game, I was inactive, which in my career I never thought I would be inactive. But things happen. You’ve just got to roll with the punches.

“I don’t know what my role will look like this year. “

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