Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t need to rush back from Cabo quite yet. His job is safe.
It’s not like the Dallas Cowboys aren’t aware how important Elliott is to their offense. But seeing Elliott’s replacements mostly struggle in Dallas’ preseason opener should reinforce the point.
The Cowboys had their first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night, and the biggest question was how the running backs would look with Elliott holding out. The Cowboys played almost all of their starting offense for one series, and rookie running back Tony Pollard got the entire series with the first team. The starters came out after the first series, and so did Pollard. Mike Weber, another rookie, got the second series.
Neither rookie back made anyone forget that Elliott is still away from the team, seeking a new contract. In the first half, the four Cowboys backs who got carries had 38 yards on 13 attempts.
No Cowboys backs stand out in first half
Pollard, who has been impressing training camp observers, got all four carries on the opening drive for 16 yards. Pollard showed good strength running up the middle to convert a third-and-2 with a 4-yard gain. He wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t very memorable either. If there’s a positive for Pollard, dominating the work with the starters says a lot about what the Cowboys have seen from him already.
Weber, a seventh-round pick from Ohio State, came in next and had just 5 yards on three carries in Dallas’ second series. He is considered more of a traditional between-the-tackles runner, while Pollard has a more diverse skill set. In the third quarter Weber completely whiffed on a blitz pickup and quarterback Mike White was sacked and fumbled, but the play was nullified due to a defensive penalty.
There aren’t many great options waiting behind those two rookies. Perhaps Alfred Morris, who was recently signed as some insurance in case Elliott really digs in, can be a steady veteran if needed. He didn’t play on Saturday night. Jordan Chunn, who was undrafted in 2018 and spent the season on Dallas’ practice squad, came in after Pollard got the first series and Weber got the second. Darius Jackson, who played two games each with Green Bay and Dallas last season and had 16 yards on 6 carries, came in next and then the rotation started again with Weber getting the fifth series. Pollard was skipped, like a regular starter would be.
If there was a notable takeaway from the Cowboys backs on Saturday, it’s how Pollard was handled as a normal first-team back in the first half by the coaches.
Tony Pollard has a chance to carve out a role
Pollard was a fourth-round pick out of Memphis. His big-play ability showed up mostly on special teams. He tied an FBS record with seven kickoff return touchdowns in his career. Pollard didn’t play a ton on offense, with Darrell Henderson (now a Los Angeles Rams backup) carrying most of the load, but he did average 6.8 yards on 139 college carries over three seasons.
Former Cowboys executive and new Hall of Famer Gil Brandt’s tweet about Pollard put him on the radar of fans who might not have known much about the rookie.
Can't stop thinking of how impressive Tony Pollard looked while I was in Oxnard for 2 days. Running style reminds me of Lenny Moore (Google if you're under 40). I know Cowboys want to sign Zeke, but they have great insurance in Pollard. Either way, he'll be involved this year. pic.twitter.com/hnpxmQaPew
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) August 7, 2019
A few carries for Pollard against the 49ers doesn’t tell us much. The Cowboys’ usage of him at this point of the preseason is more telling. It’s worth keeping in mind if Elliott’s holdout lingers into the regular season.
Elliott wants to get paid and has threatened to not play without a new deal. Jones has sent mixed messages, letting the world know that teams don’t need a rushing champion to win a Super Bowl but also bragging that he’ll get a deal done because he always does. There seems to be some optimism that something will get worked out, but nothing is certain as long as Elliott isn’t with the team.
The Cowboys would prefer if Elliott would come in soon. Elliott didn’t lose much leverage on Saturday as Dallas’ other backs didn’t stand out.
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