49ers

Judge blocks Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension over domestic case

zeke-us.jpg
USATSI

Judge blocks Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension over domestic case

A federal judge blocked Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension over a domestic violence case Friday, setting the stage for a potentially lengthy legal fight with the NFL.

Last year's league rushing leader was already cleared to play in the opener against the New York Giants on Sunday night before the ruling by U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant.

Mazzant agreed with players' union lawyers that Elliott didn't receive a "fundamentally fair" hearing in his appeal and he granted the NFL Players' Association request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction blocking the league's punishment.

Elliott was suspended by Commissioner Roger Goodell in August after the league concluded he had several physical confrontations last summer with Tiffany Thompson, a former girlfriend. Prosecutors in Ohio didn't pursue the case, citing conflicting evidence.

The 22-year-old Elliott denied Thompson's allegations in sworn testimony during an appeal hearing last week. He also attended the hearing for a restraining order earlier this week in Sherman, about 65 miles north of Dallas.

Arbitrator Harold Henderson turned down Elliott's appeal of the suspension the same day as the hearing in federal court. Henderson ruled that the NFL complied with its personal conduct policy in punishing Elliott and rejected any claims that Elliott's attorneys presented new evidence at the appeal.

Mazzant ruled that Henderson's decision not to allow Goodell and Thompson to testify helped Elliott's case in meeting the standard for an injunction to be issued.

"Their absence effectively deprived Elliott of any chance to have a fundamentally fair hearing," Mazzant wrote.

The union blasted NFL owners in its reaction to Mazzant's ruling.

"Commissioner discipline will continue to be a distraction from our game for one reason: because NFL owners have refused to collectively bargain a fair and transparent process that exists in other sports," the union said. "This 'imposed' system remains problematic for players and the game, but as the honest and honorable testimony of a few NFL employees recently revealed, it also demonstrates the continued lack of integrity within their own league office."

After Henderson's ruling, the NFL filed a lawsuit asking a federal court in New York to enforce Elliott's suspension. The Southern District of New York falls under the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which last year backed Goodell's four-game suspension of New England quarterback Tom Brady in the "Deflategate" case.

The union had sued in federal court on behalf of Elliott last week before Henderson ruled, saying the appeal hearing was "fundamentally unfair" because the running back was prevented from confronting his accuser in the Ohio case.

NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler reiterated most of the union's arguments before Mazzant, who pressed league attorney Daniel Nash for answers on the claim from Elliott's legal team that a co-lead investigator who questioned Thompson's credibility was left out of a key meeting with Goodell during the yearlong probe.

According to the letter Elliott received informing him of the suspension last month, the NFL believed he used "physical force" three times in a span of five days in a Columbus, Ohio, apartment last July resulting in injuries to Thompson's face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists, hips and knees.

Prosecutors in Columbus decided about a year ago not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, but the NFL kept the investigation open. The league said its conclusions were based on photographs, text messages and other electronic evidence.

The NFL stiffened penalties in domestic cases three years after the league was sharply criticized for its handling of the domestic case involving former Baltimore running back Ray Rice.

Elliott rushed for 1,631 yards as a rookie to help the Cowboys to the best record in the NFC at 13-3. He was a full practice participant throughout training camp but played in just one preseason game, same as a year ago when Elliott missed significant time at camp because of a hamstring injury.

Inactives: 49ers third-round pick yet to make his debut

ahkello-us.jpg
USATSI

Inactives: 49ers third-round pick yet to make his debut

As the 49ers take on the Rams on Thursday Night Football, the team will be without five defenders and two from offense. 

Ahkello Witherspoon, who the team drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft, will have to wait to make his debut another week. 

Below is the full list of inactives from Insider Matt Maiocco. 

49ers building defensive identity: 'We can help ourselves a lot by...'

49ers-gang-tackle-seahawks.jpg
AP

49ers building defensive identity: 'We can help ourselves a lot by...'

SANTA CLARA – After spending the past three seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, inside linebacker Brock Coyle knows how it is supposed to look.

And he believes the 49ers have gotten off to a good start under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who has installed a scheme based on the Seahawks’ blueprint.

“What’s really cool about this defense is if you look at Seattle, Jacksonville and Atlanta, they all have their different traits, their different personalties and their characteristics,” Coyle said. “And we’re building our own identity on defense.

“You see guys flying around and growing. And this was just our second regular-season game together in this defense.”

Saleh uses such terms as “all gas no brakes” and “extreme violence” to describe the kind of style he wants to see from his defense. In the 49ers’ 12-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers seemed to compete physically with the Seahawks for the first time in a long time.

On the first possession of the game, 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt set the tone when he separated Seattle tight end Jimmy Graham from the ball with a big hit. Graham was never a factor in the game, catching just one pass for 1 yard.

“If you’re looking from a progress standpoint, I don’t look at so much production as much as what it looks like on tape and the violence, the speed, attacking the ball, that’s what I’m excited about,” Saleh said.

The 49ers will have another chance on a quick turnaround to establish that identity on Thursday night against the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium.

Rookie linebacker Reuben Foster will miss his second game in a row with a high-ankle sprain. Ray-Ray Armstrong started against Seattle, alongside NaVorro Bowman, but Saleh said Coyle also fits into his plan.

Coyle entered the game at Seattle in the first half in place of Armstrong, and Saleh hinted he could use both players more interchangeably until Foster returns.

“He deserves it,” Saleh said of Coyle. “He works his tail off and he works hard and we wanted to make sure that we got him some more reps. And to be honest with you, I feel he should probably get a little bit more.

“He’s a great communicator and knows everybody’s job on the football field. He’s very, very strong at the point of attack and he is pretty athletic and fast.”

The 49ers' physicality is showing up on the early downs, as the defense leads the league in allowing just 2.7 yards per play on first downs. But the 49ers have to get a lot better on the down that matters most. The 49ers rank 23rd on third downs, allowing the opposition through two games to convert 46.9 percent of their opportunities.

“Third down is a major emphasis -- every week it is," Saleh said. "We faced 12 more plays than we needed to that first drive just because a lack of execution on that first third-down and 9. We were in great position to get off the field.

"We’ve got to tackle and that takes all 11 running to the ball because a lot of times that first guy does miss, but we can help ourselves a lot by being better on third down for sure.”