"I was nervous this weekend knowing I was going to get in,'' Ellis said. "I've been away from live contact for a while. The biggest adjustment was just being out here, being able to hit and knowing I'm going to get hit and not knowing what to expect."
Cowboys coaches hope Ellis, who led the team in sacks last year, will be ready for the season opener against Philadelphia on Sept. 3. Ellis said he probably will be able to play in the final two preseason games if everything goes well.
So far, so good. Practicing in shorts and shoulder pads, Ellis participated in all the defensive drills, often lining up with the first unit. How his leg responds will be critical. If he has little soreness, he can move ahead.
"He looked good,'' defensive line coach Andre Patterson said. "The key thing for us is to not get too excited, and take things slow. We know he's going to want to take it up another notch.''
Ellis' return is vital to the defense because it needs a pass rush to compensate for its inexperienced cornerbacks. Ellis will bolster the line in many ways.
After proving he was a solid run stopper his rookie season in 1998, Ellis added a dramatic flair last season. Not only did he have 7.5 sacks â€“ the most by a Cowboy since Tony Tolbert's 12 in 1996 â€“ but he had an 87-yard interception return and a 98-yard fumble return for touchdowns.
Tuesday, Ellis said he was just happy to be back competing in drills.
"It's sore, but for the most part, it feels real good,'' he said.