Who’s the short yardage running back on the 2023 Cowboys offense?

With the regular season fast approaching, things are falling into place for the Cowboys. Dallas fortuitously avoided major turnover in the offseason so the number of major roles they had to fill over the summer were limited. For the most part, the Cowboys got deeper across their roster. That’s no small feat for a team coming off back-to-back 12-win seasons.

Yet, there’s one position which experienced a significant loss that still has some roles to sort out: Running back.

The argument isn’t whether or not it was time to move on from Ezekiel Elliott, it clearly was. It’s who fills his role and wears the many hats Elliott left behind. Elliott wasn’t just a dependable all-purpose back for Dallas, but he was also the top pass protector, best short-yardage option, and a significant receiving target.

Tony Pollard, Deuce Vaughn and Rico Dowdle are virtual locks to make the roster in 2023. Based on their preseason play, they appear to have pass protection and pass catching roles in hand to a large degree. But short yardage is another story.

The durability and effectiveness of Elliott’s 6-foot, 228-pound frame cannot be understated. It’s something the 209-pound Pollard, the 215-pound Dowdle, and the 176-pound Vaughn will be hard pressed to replace.

Elliott’s 231 carries marked a career-low for him in 2022. They can conceivably be absorbed by all three previously mentioned options without much of an issue. But Elliott’s 64 conversions (first down runs + touchdown runs) may not be quite so simple to reproduce.

When training camp first opened up, the hope was someone like Hunter Luepke could take on the post as the short-yardage specialist. Visions of John Kuhn danced in the heads of many, sparking an abnormal level of hype for a standard UDFA.

As camp and the preseason unfolded, Luepke’s odds of making the final 53 have seemingly declined. He has struggled to make a major impression in any capacity and appears to be on the outside looking in at the moment.

The expectation he can take on the short-yardage role in 2023 is quickly flying out the window, leaving the onus back on the shoulders of Pollard, Dowdle, and Vaughn.

It’s possible Malik Davis could be the answer if he makes the final roster. Or perhaps Dak Prescott himself takes on a bigger role as dive option in critical short-yardage situations. The answer isn’t clear, making the issue everyone’s problem to deal with.

Want a compelling storyline to follow as the preseason closes out and the regular season approaches?

Look no further than the Cowboys short-yardage situation at RB because it’s far from settled with no clear and obvious solution in sight.

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Story originally appeared on Cowboys Wire