‘I feel faster’: Cowboys RB Tony Pollard ahead of schedule in return from injury

Tony Pollard has officially put the New York Giants on notice. The Cowboys running back says he’ll be fully ready to go for the team’s season opener at MetLife Stadium on Sept 10.

In fact, Pollard says he’ll be ready sooner than that.

“Right now, I’m feeling pretty good about where I am,” he told reporters Thursday. “A little bit ahead of schedule.”

The fifth-year ball carrier is working his way back to action after going down in January’s divisional loss with a high ankle sprain and fractured fibula. But if you’re wondering if he’ll be back to the level where he was before the injury, you’re selling him short.

“Honestly, I feel faster,” Pollard said. “We’ve got great trainers. Working with Britt [Brown, Cowboys associate athletic trainer and director of rehabilitation] on the bands for I don’t know how many months we’ve been going. I just feel like I’ve got a lot of juice in me.”

That should be a scary prospect for opposing defenses. Pollard is coming off a career year in which he topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time and earned his first Pro Bowl nod.

But he also topped teammate Ezekiel Elliott in offensive snaps for the first time. Now Elliott is gone, and Pollard is no longer the change-of-pace back in Dallas.

Now the former fourth-round pick will be setting the pace, but he says he’s not approaching his job any differently.

“It’s a great feeling for me,” Pollard admitted. “For the most part, I look at it [as] the same thing, the way I come in for work day in, day out, give my all, work hard, and just let the rest take care of itself.”

That includes his contract status with the team. The Cowboys placed the franchise tag on him in March rather than negotiate a longer-term deal. It locks him in for 2023, but makes everything beyond that a rather large question mark. The team still has until July 17 to work out a new contract, though it does not seem to be a priority for the front office.

Pollard says it’s not on his mind at all.

“For right now, I’m just letting my agent and the ownership handle that and just focus day by day coming in, doing what I have to do.”

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Currently, that means getting himself back to game-ready and being the clear-cut leader in the running backs room. Ronald Jones is new to the club. Malik Davis is in just his second season. Rico Dowdle has seven NFL carries on his resume. Deuce Vaughn is still learning his way around the building.

“We’ve got a great stable of backs here, but it’s a great feeling personally when they look at you as the lead back in the room,” the 26-year-old Memphis product said. “I’m just grateful for the opportunity and ready to make the most of it.”

He finds himself drawing on lessons learned when he was the new kid in the Dallas backfield.

“Having a vet like Zeke here for the years that I was here with him was just a great learning experience for me, to see how you’re supposed to handle things as a vet, the older guy in the room. He did a great job paving the way for me and showing me how to lead those guys by example.”

Leading them onto the field with- presumably- the first carries of 2023 on opening night will be a huge step.

But that step will have been preceded by lots of little steps taken now, under the watchful eye of Cowboys trainers. Pollard says he’s been running and cutting at full speed, but he’s been taking just mental reps in OTAs thus far.

“I would say I’m not really limited at this point,” he explained. “It’s just being smart with it, trying to work my way back in slowly and make sure I’m in tip-top shape when I get out there.”

Pollard was already near the top, finishing third among all running backs in rushing yards per attempt last season.

Tip-top, though, means Pollard is coming with a vengeance.

“I’m never satisfied to where I feel like I did enough; I feel like every year, I can get better.”

And as improbable as it may seem, this year, he says he’s faster.

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire